Funding Cuts Spare VA but Not Veterans' Mental Health Programs
When the sequestration of government funding went into effect, I was relieved to learn that at least the Department of Veterans Affairs was spared. Our nation's veterans, who have given so much, need full access to an entire range of services to address their medical, social, and mental health needs.
My relief quickly vanished when I read an article in The Washington Post that explained a very sneaky loophole in the sequestration process: While the Department of Veterans Affairs is not subject to funding cuts, many of the other departments that provide veterans' services are.
Here is a rundown of the valuable mental health programs and related services for veterans that are facing possible funding slashes or elimination:
- The Labor Department's VETS job-training program, aimed to reduce the high unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Mental health issues are a significant barrier to employment, so this program is key to helping veterans with mental health struggles reintegrate into the workforce.
- Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers, which have reduced the number of homeless veterans by an impressive 17% since the program's launch in 2009. Again, mental health challenges are one of the primary factors influencing homelessness among our nation's veterans. The HUD vouchers are pivotal to helping struggling veterans obtain safe housing, which in turn increases their mental resilience and resources.
- Defense Department programs that help veterans and their families coping with medical and mental health problems. Remember, the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs are two different entities. The Army's chief of staff, General Raymond Odierno, has already speculated that the number of mental health counselors treating returning service members with post-traumatic stress disorder will be cut.
- Additionally, a whopping 40% of medical providers for the Defense Department who work in military hospitals and clinics are susceptible to furlough (a temporary unpaid leave).
- And speaking of unemployment, veterans make up approximately 44% of the Defense Department's civilian workforce, which could face furloughs as early as April. In fact, over a quarter of federal employees are veterans, and over a quarter of those veterans are disabled.
If you are as concerned about this as I am, I urge you to contact your representatives and implore them to prevent cuts to programs that impact the mental health needs of our nation's service members. To find your representatives, click here.