WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2013 – The Veterans Affairs Department has hired 815 peer specialists and peer apprentices, exceeding the hiring goal set in a 2012 presidential executive order aimed at improving access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families.
On June 3, VA officials announced the department had met another goal established by the executive order by hiring 1,600 additional mental health professionals.
“We have made strong progress to expand veterans’ access to quality mental health services, but we must continue to increase access,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “These newly hired employees, veterans themselves, are uniquely equipped to guide fellow veterans through difficult issues.”
Peer specialists and peer support apprentices are veterans who have successfully dealt with their own mental health recovery for a minimum of one year, VA officials said. Peer specialists are trained and certified, while peer support apprentices are undergoing training and certification to become peer specialists. The executive order mandated that all peer counselor training would be complete by the end of the year, and VA remains on track to meet that requirement, officials said.
“We are proud to have exceeded the hiring goal established by the president in his executive order,” said VA’s undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert A. Petzel. “We are well on the way to have all of these new hires trained by the end of the calendar year.”
Specialists and apprentices are working at every VA medical center throughout the country as well as at community-based outpatient clinics with more than 10,000 enrollees.
As the nation’s largest integrated health care system, VA cares for more than 6.3 million veterans annually, and has seen an increase in the number of service members who are dealing with mental health issues, officials said. VA’s push to hire veterans who can provide peer support is a key part of a greater effort aimed at increasing access to mental health care services for the nation’s veterans by hiring thousands of new mental health professionals, they added.
Earlier this year, VA announced a 50 percent increase in staffing for the Veterans Crisis Line — 1-800-273-8255Call: 1-800-273-8255 — which has been credited with rescuing more than 26,000 actively suicidal veterans, officials noted.
In addition, the department has held mental health summits at 151 VA medical centers to further engage community partners, veteran service organizations, health care providers and local governments, officials said, and to address the broad mental health needs of veterans and their families.