Obama Campaigns For Veterans' Mental Health | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Obama Campaigns For Veterans' Mental Health

Play associated audio

On Friday, President Obama was at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he spoke to troops and met with military families, including some who lost loved ones in Afghanistan.

As that war winds down, the president is ordering additional help for those with invisible battle scars. A rash of suicides has shown mental injuries can be just as deadly as a roadside bomb.

Surrounded by soldiers in camouflage fatigues, Obama recalled his last visit to Fort Bliss, exactly two years earlier. That was the day he announced a formal end to combat operations in Iraq.

"It was a chance for me to say, on behalf of the American people, to you and all who served there, welcome home and congratulations on a job well done," Obama said.

Troops from Fort Bliss were among the last to fight in Iraq, and they're still fighting in Afghanistan. By next month, though, when the last of the Afghan "surge" troops withdraw, Obama says, the U.S. will have only a third as many troops in those countries as it did four years ago. He promised additional services for returning troops as they cope with the mental damage left by those wars.

"Just as we give you the best equipment and technology on the battlefield, we need to give you the best support and care when you come home," the president said.

Hiring More Help For Veterans

Obama signed an executive order on Friday, directing the Veterans Administration to hire 1,600 new mental health professionals and to expand the capacity of its crisis line so those who are in crisis can see a counselor within 24 hours.

"This is an unexpected and very positive move in the right direction," said Paul Sullivan, the former executive director of Veterans for Common Sense. "It's not just a step. It's a huge leap."

Five years ago, Veterans for Common Sense sued the VA over inadequate care. Sullivan says there's an urgent need for additional help. On average, 18 veterans and one active-duty service member take their own lives every day.

"We are now seeing more deaths among our service members and veterans than we were seeing on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan," he says.

In addition to the extra professionals, the VA will hire 800 peer support counselors. The president has also set up a task force to recommend other ways the government can help those suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Getting Veterans To Get Help

The White House says money for the additional mental health care will come from existing resources, though the president sought a 10-percent increase in overall VA funding next year.

Sullivan says the administration and Congress should be prepared for an increased mental health care bill. More than 2 million troops have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, often for lengthy and repeated deployments.

"We know that deployment increases the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury," he says. "So it's going to be really important for veterans listening out there and their family members and friends to come forward and ask for help."

The Defense Department has already been encouraging service members and veterans to seek the help they need through its "Real Warriors" campaign of video testimonials and public service announcements. Obama says that message will be amplified with a new awareness campaign that will start immediately.

"I know that you join me in saying to everyone who's ever worn the uniform, if you're hurting, it's not a sign of weakness to seek help. It's a sign of strength," Obama said. "We're here to help you stay strong. Army strong. That's a commitment I'm making to you."

The U.S. may be turning a page on a decade of war, Obama said, but its responsibility to care for the troops has only just begun.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Speed Dating For Seniors Who Aren't Interested In Slowing Down

A new film follows daters ages 70 to 90 looking for love in five-minute intervals. "Speed dating for seniors" may sound funny, but The Age of Love is really about our lifelong need for intimacy.
NPR

Eat Your Veggies! Even The Ones From Fukushima

Foods from Fukushima, Japan, are back to pre-accident levels of radiation but people still aren't eating them. One way to ease concerns: a chemical that blocks radioactive cesium from entering plants.
NPR

'Zionist Union' Party Creates A Stir In Israeli Elections

The opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party in the Israeli elections calls itself the "Zionist Union" as it looks to claim the country's middle-ground voters.
NPR

'Respect The Robot': Giant Robots Oversee Traffic In Kinshasa

Two giant robots have directed traffic in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo since 2013. This week three others joined them.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.