U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki often reminds us: As the tide of war recedes we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans. As these newest veterans return home, we must ensure they have access to quality mental health care in order to successfully make this transition to civilian life.
Last year, the VA provided specialty mental health services to more than 1.3 million veterans -- a 35 percent increase since 2007 in the number of veterans who received mental health services. That's why we recently announced the VA will add an additional 1,600 mental health staff professionals and an additional 300 support staff members nationwide, including one here at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center.
These efforts to hire more mental health professionals build on our record of service to veterans. President Obama, Secretary Shinseki and your leaders here at the Walla Walla VA have devoted more people, programs and resources to veteran mental health services. The VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent since 2009. What's more, we've increased the number of mental health staff members by 41 percent since 2007. That means today, we have a team of professionals that's 20,590 strong -- all dedicated to providing much-needed direct mental health treatment to veterans.
While we have made great strides to expand mental health care access, we have much more work to do. The men and women who have had multiple deployments over a decade of combat have carried a tremendous burden for our country.
Our mission is to increase access to our care and services. We've greatly increased the number of Veterans Readjustment Counseling Centers throughout the country, including two in Walla Walla's catchment area -- in Walla Walla (1104 W. Poplar St.) and in Yakima. We've also developed an extensive suicide prevention program that saves lives every day. For example, our team at the Veteran Crisis Line has fielded more than 600,000 calls from veterans in need and helped rescue more than 21,000 veterans who were in immediate crisis. That's 21,000 veterans who have been saved.
The mental health of America's veterans not only touches those of us at the VA and the Department of Defense, but also families, friends, co-workers and people in our communities.
We ask you to urge veterans in your communities to reach out and connect with VA services. To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, veterans can visit the VA's website at www.va.gov.
Brian W. Westfield,
Jonathan M. Wainright VA Medical Center