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VA budget adds mental-health services for combat vets

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The proposed Department of Veterans Affairs funding request will provide more post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury services to combat veterans, as well as other mental-health care and services for wounded warriors, President Barack Obama said April 9.

"The nightmares of war don't always end when our loved ones return home," President Obama said.

"Untold thousands of servicemen and -women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other serious psychological injury," he said.

The president called the growing incidence of suicide among active-duty servicemembers and returning combat veterans "disturbing."

"Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated," he said. "And that's why this budget dramatically increases funding for mental-health screening and treatment at all levels."

The proposed budget represents the largest single-year increase in VA funding in three decades.

"All told, we will increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years," President Obama said.

The president recognized that thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have suffered from traumatic brain injury, and said the budget will provide improved services for these cognitive injuries.

"Many with TBI have never been evaluated by a physician," he said. "And because such injuries can often have long-term impacts that only show up down the road, this funding will help ensure they received the ongoing care they need."

The budget proposal also will increase the number of Vet Centers and mobile health clinics, expanding access to mental-health care in rural areas, he said. Meanwhile, it also aims to reduce the stigma of seeking care by adding mental-health professionals to educate veterans and their families about their injuries and their options.

In addition to more comprehensive mental-health services, President Obama said the funding request will provide other improvements in the medical care and other benefits veterans receive.

"This budget doesn't just signify increased funding for the VA health-care program," he said. "It significantly expands coverage so that 500,000 more veterans who have previously been denied it will receive it, and it strengthens care and services across a broad range of areas."

The proposed budget also will:
-- Invest in better technology to deliver services and benefits to veterans with the quality and efficiency they deserve;
-- Provide greater benefits to veterans who are medically retired from service;
-- Combat homelessness by safeguarding vulnerable veterans; and
-- Ensure the timely adoption of new, comprehensive education benefits that veterans earn through their military service.

President Obama said all Americans "share the shame of 154,000 veterans going homeless on any given night."

His budget request will fund a pilot program for not-for-profit groups to ensure that veterans at risk of losing their homes have a roof over their heads.

"And we will not rest until we reach a day when not one single veteran falls into homelessness," he said.

President Obama also expressed optimism over Senate support for a measure that would provide advanced medical-care funding for veterans.

"The care that our veterans receive should never be hindered by budget delays," President Obama said, adding that the plan he and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki have advanced will ensure there's no disruption.

"What that means is a timely and predictable flow of funding from year to year, but more importantly, that means better care for our veterans," he said.