David Rodeck

Veterans’ Health Care: Mental Health Support for Transitioning Veterans

Veterans perform an unbelievable service for our country — but unfortunately, it often comes at a cost. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a suicide risk rate roughly 40 to 60 percent higher than that of the general population.

In response to facts like these, the federal government is launching a new type of veterans’ health insurance for mental health care. An executive order signed in January 2018 expands mental health care for veterans immediately after they’re discharged. Before this order, veterans had to qualify for VA medical benefits to receive mental health care, which meant waiting for the VA to determine whether their issue was service-related. This, in turn, meant going without care for several months during a period when many desperately need help. This new order provides veterans not on VA medical benefits access to mental health care for at least a year after service.

It’s important for employers who currently employ veterans or may in the future to understand how to use both this new program and other resources to give veteran employees the support they need.

The Benefits

Though the government is still finalizing it, a few details about the program have emerged. First is a plan to expand group therapy sessions through the VA’s Whole Health program. These sessions are currently only available in 18 locations but should spread nationwide.

The Washington Post also reports that the Department of Defense will extend its Military One Source program to last a full year, up from 180 days. Through this program, veterans can receive face-to-face counseling and access to a 24/7 phone hotline for care.

Any time you hire a veteran who has just left the service, make sure they’re aware of these resources so that they can take advantage of them.

Other Government Support

Because the executive order will only extend mental health care services for the first year, it’s important to know what other resources are available. Your veteran employees will still have access to the federal veterans’ crisis hotline, where your employees can call, text or chat online for support. To be eligible for face-to-face counseling, though, veterans will need to qualify for VA medical benefits.

Find out whether your veteran employees have applied with the VA. If they haven’t yet but intend to, encourage them to apply as soon as possible, since cases can take time to be approved. Don’t simply assume that employees will apply for veterans’ health insurance, as they may not realize they can qualify for government support. In fact, the VA estimates that 42 percent of veterans are not aware of VA health care benefits. Ensure that all communication is done privately in order to protect your employees’ rights. Mental health may be a sensitive subject, so be tactful as you communicate.

Private Health Insurance

Unfortunately, not all veterans qualify for VA health benefits, which means that some of your employees will not have access to government assistance. Your organization should do everything it can to provide quality mental health care for both veteran and nonveteran employees alike.

Consider adding an employee assistance program (EAP) if your insurance plan doesn’t already include one. These programs let employees reach out for immediate counseling and referrals to therapists if necessary. If your plan provides access to a nursing hotline, make sure veteran employees have this number available so they can reach out in the event of a crisis.

Finally, look for a health insurance plan that includes mental health care coverage at an affordable rate. If the out-of-pocket payments are too high, your employees may not seek treatment. Encourage employees to save throughout the year through your flexible spending account or health spending account, if you have one, so that they can cover the costs of mental health care while lowering their taxes.

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Mental health may be an important factor in whether veterans leave or stay in their jobs after re-entering the workforce. By providing supportive services, you can help them transition into long and successful careers.

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