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Parity Expands Veterans Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment Access


Jeannie Campbell, Master Chief Petty Officer, ret. serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Ms. Campbell leads national civilian initiatives to improve community-based mental health and substance use treatment for veterans and pioneered the Veterans Behavioral Health Certificate, designed to train civilian healthcare providers in military cultural and clinical competencies to better care for veterans in the community.

Nov 11, 2013—As we give thanks to our veterans today, we have cause to celebrate. The Obama administration passed a robust final parity rule just last week, to implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. People insured under various group and individual health plans — including veterans — will now have treatment for mental and substance use disorders covered on par with treatment for physical illnesses.

A RAND study revealed that up to 20 percent of the 1.7 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression And 7.1 percent —1.8 million — of all veterans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder. With a long waiting list for services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and limited VA facilities in local communities, our veterans have had inadequate access to treatment. Now, parity allows them to seek help outside the VA and have private insurance pay for services.

As former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who sponsored the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, said, “This issuance of this rule has been highly anticipated by those in the mental health community, and will be particularly significant for our returning veterans – many of whom carry brain injuries sustained in battle and have been coming home to unequal care. People call Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress ‘invisible wounds,’ but they demand a visible response. With Veterans Day just around the corner, we need parity for our patriots.”

As more veterans take advantage of parity and come to community behavioral health centers for help, how can you gear up to serve? Consider three immediate steps:

Let veterans and families in your community know where to go for help. Offer Mental Health First Aid classes for veterans and family members in your community. Mental Health First Aid increases understanding of the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses, encourages help-seeking behaviors, tells people where they can go for help, and opens the doors of your center to those in need of services.

Train staff to be culturally competent. With each person you serve, you know that you need to meet them where they are, need to understand their values, and the context in which they are experiencing and addressing behavioral health challenges. The military is its own culture as well. The National Council, in partnership with the Center for Deployment Psychology and Relias Learning offers an online training program to increase clinical and cultural competencies in serving veterans. Learn more about the Veterans Behavioral Health Certificate.

Learn from other community behavioral health providers who treat veterans. Veterans on the Road Home, the field guide published by the National Council, describes the unique characteristics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the resulting physical, mental, economic, and social effects on veterans and their families. The book presents detailed case studies of community behavioral healthcare providers and associations with expertise in serving veterans and their families with a focus on community collaboration and lessons learned. The book is available on the National Council Store.

It also helps to know about other organizations that support veterans and their families, offering crisis services, support groups, housing supports, employment and higher education benefits, volunteerism, and community involvement. Here are a few nationally-focused groups:

What are you doing to support veterans mental health and substance use treatment needs in your community? Please share your efforts and initiatives by adding your comments to this post.

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