President Signs Executive Order Expanding Mental Health Services for Military

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Obama FtBliss msnbcPresident Barack Obama signed an executive order on August 31st directing a number of federal agencies to expand access to mental health care and services for servicemembers, their families and veterans. The measure comes amidst an epidemic of suicides among military members —  amounting to as much as one per day.

Specifically, the executive order contained the following provisions:

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs was directed to increase their veteran crisis hotline capacity by 50 percent.
  • The VA was also directed to ensure that all veterans reporting themselves to be in crisis “connect with” a trained mental health professional within 24 hours or less.
  • The VA was directed to work with the Defense Department to develop and implement a 12-month suicide prevention campaign (apparently they have to be told to do this).
  • In areas where the VA has trouble recruiting qualified professionals, the President has directed them to form “pilot sites,” which will contract with local professionals to provide needed services.
  • The VA is directed to hire 800 “peer-to-peer” support counselors, and as many as 1,600 new mental health care workers.

The President announced the executive order during a visit to Fort Bliss, Texas.

One former Army psychiatrist, however, says the order doesn’t go far enough. Writing for Time Magazine, COL Elspeth Cameron Ritchie argues that the Veterans Administration is already trying to hire 1,600 additional mental health care professionals, even without the executive order.

COL Ritchie has published extensively on mental health care issues concerning veterans and survivors of traumatic experiences. She collaborated with a number of colleagues to make additional recommendations for the President. Among them:

  • Educate civilian mental health workers on how to work with veterans.
  • Educate police and corrections officers on best practices in working with veterans.
  • Train more college counselors.
  • Bring more anti-PTSD medications to market, or expand their use.
  • Re-look at security clearance questionnaires that force servicemembers to reveal mental health treatment, potentially discouraging some servicemembers from seeking treatment.

COL Ritchie also wrote “we need to re-look at gun laws, and ensure that gun safety is emphasized. This is the ‘third rail’ of suicide prevention, and I fear that no Presidential candidate will discuss this.”

What do you think of COL Ritchie’s implication that military members and veterans either aren’t trained on the safe handling of firearms, or that their access to firearms must be restricted?

Do you think this and her other suggestions would make a difference? 


(Photo credit: MSNBC)


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