Does the VA Prioritize Mental Health Care?

Veterans of World War IISupporting and appreciating our nation’s Veterans is vital. This month, in addition to being Military Appreciation Month, is also Mental Health Awareness Month, and today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day (their biggest supporters of all)! These observances make this an ideal time to recognize our Veterans and look at what is being done to address mental health challenges, one of the foremost concerns that are affecting them today.

The Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), which serves injured, ill, and wounded post-9/11 Veterans and service members, publishes the Annual Warrior Survey. The survey focuses on some of the most pressing needs of our nation’s Veterans. We will explore these findings, including mental and physical health concerns, financial wellness, and more. We will also discuss important Veterans benefits, such as Aid and Attendance, and how the Estate Planning attorneys, Elder Law attorneys, Medicaid Asset Protection experts, nursing home planning experts, and long-term care planning advisors at the Farr Law Firm can be of assistance to our nation’s heroes.

Findings from the WWP Survey

The data in the latest WWP Survey explores the accounts from some of the 165,967 wounded warriors who were registered with WWP as of April 2022. Below is a summary of the data in the five categories they measured:

Mental Health:

  • Seventy-six percent of warriors reported PTSD.
  • Nearly half had moderate to severe PTSD symptoms at the time of the survey.
  • Fifty percent reported co-occurring mental health conditions.
  • Fifty percent of warriors experienced moderate to severe symptoms of two or more mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety, and or depression.
  • Twenty-eight percent of warriors reported having suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months.

Physical health

  • Three-quarters of warriors reported moderate or severe pain. Of them, 50 percent of the warriors said that they are “only a little” or “not at all” effective in managing it.
  • Eighty percent of warriors reported sleep problems, which was the top reported health issue among warriors.

Financial wellness 

  • Three in five warriors have struggled to make ends meet in the past 12 months.
  • Mental health is one of the top barriers to employment.

Social connection

  • Four out of five reported feeling isolated.
  • Thirty-nine percent of warriors reported that their physical health or emotional problems were barriers for social activities most or all of the time
  • Social support is associated with lower rates of suicidal thoughts among warriors, including in areas such as finding connection and feeling understood after the transition to civilian life.

Spiritual well-being

  • Only 35 percent agreed they have more appreciation for life as a result of their traumatic experience.
  • Only 45 percent agreed they tend to recover after hardships.

These findings align with those of all Veterans, not only wounded warriors. In fact, according to the 2023 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, mental health is a chief concern for Veterans. Suicide remains the 13th leading cause of death for Veterans overall and the second leading cause of death for Veterans under the age of 45. In 2021, 6,392 Veterans died by suicide, an increase of 114 suicides from 2020. Findings from both surveys show the need for affordable and accessible mental health care for all Veterans.

Does the VA Prioritize Mental Health Care?

In another study, Foothold Technology utilized data from the Census Bureau and Department of Veterans Affairs to analyze tax-funded VA spending and examine how it has added benefits to accommodate older veterans. Medical care is one of the top VA expenses. In recent years, the VA has grown mental health services, including emergency medical care for veterans in suicidal crises. These health care expansions have been vital, as the VA reports that Veterans enrolled with them have better health outcomes than those who are not.

More than 100 VA medical centers have committed to providing holistic care for aging Veterans by participating in the official Age-Friendly Health Systems Initiative. This program centers around older Veterans’ care preferences, including end-of-life care, using medications that don’t interfere with patient priorities, retaining mobility, and preventing or managing common mental health conditions such as depression and dementia.

Helping Veterans Maintain Better Mental Health

Over the past year, the VA has announced or continued several additional efforts to prioritize mental health care for Veterans.

  • Mental health care is a key part of the VA’s 10-year National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide and the White House plan for Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide.
  • To help Veterans who are having suicidal thoughts, the VA operates the 988 Veteran’s Crisis Line. Veterans can call the 988 national suicide prevention hotline (then press 1) at any time to quickly connect with caring, qualified crisis support counselors specially trained to assist Veterans. They can also visit to initiate an online chat or simply start chatting by sending a text message to 838255.
  • The Veterans Crisis Line started in 2007 with just 14 trained responders and has grown over the years to 500 trained responders.
  • Calls and messages to the hotline are up over 17 percent from last year and response time has decreased. This means more Veterans are getting connected to mental health services faster than ever.
  • Under the Compact Act of 2023 (section 201), Veterans who are suffering from a mental health crisis can receive immediate care from any hospital with costs paid by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. So far, approximately 47,000 Veterans have availed themselves of this benefit.
  • The VA proposed in 2022 a rule that would reduce or eliminate copayments for Veterans at risk of suicide, but apparently this rule has not yet been implemented.
  • Telehealth options for Veterans are up over 3,000 percent at the VA since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides promoting telehealth options and hiring more mental health professionals, the VA is also working with Veteran mentors who can help Veterans deal with substance abuse issues for Veterans at risk of suicide, but apparently this rule has not yet been implemented.
  • The VA had conducted an ongoing public outreach effort on firearm suicide prevention and lethal means safety.
  • The VA operates REACH — a national Veteran suicide prevention awareness campaign encouraging Veterans to “Don’t Wait. Reach Out.” Beginning in January 2024, the VA began funding new studies on new therapies for treating mental health conditions.

Let’s hope that Veterans who need help with mental health issues make full use of the mental health programs that are available to them. Learn more about VA Mental Health Services here. Also, read my articles on Veterans’ benefits here for more information.

Veterans Aid and Attendance Is Highly Underutilized

Veterans Aid and Attendance has been around for many years, but many Veterans don’t know about it. Currently, thousands of Veterans and their spouses take advantage of the Veterans Aid and Attendance benefit each year, but VA officials say that many more are eligible.

To be eligible, a Veteran must generally:

  • be at least 65 years old;
  • have served on active duty for at least 90 days with at least one day during a period of wartime;
  • have not been dishonorably discharged; and
  • need help with at least one activity of daily living, such as: eating, walking, dressing, bathing, using the toilet, or adjusting prosthetic devices.

Qualified Veterans and spouses of qualified Veterans who require in-home care, live in assisted living facilities or group homes or nursing homes, or who are blind, may also be eligible.

If you are a Veteran or spouse of a Veteran and you need assistance, be sure to make an appointment at the Farr Law Firm for a consultation. We can work with you to evaluate if you qualify for Veterans Aid and Attendance Benefit and help you file the paperwork. Learn more about Veterans Aid and Attendance.

The Farr Law Firm Works with Veterans Enrolled in the Wounded Warrior Project

At the Farr Law Firm, we are very honored to be able to provide Estate Planning and Elder Law legal services to Veterans enrolled in the Wounded Warrior Project Independence Program, which helps eligible Veterans who have a spinal cord injury, a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, or a neurodegenerative disorder such as MS or ALS. The Wounded Warrior Project also offers a multitude of other services that Veterans (even nondisabled Veterans) may benefit from. Contact the Wounded Warrior Project Resource Center at 888-997-2586, and one of their coordinators will be available to assist you and begin to assess the programs within WWP that might be helpful for you.

Let Us Help You Get All the Benefits to Which You’re Entitled

Applying for Veterans’ benefits can be a difficult process. Here at the Farr Law Firm, we help Veterans and their spouses evaluate whether they qualify or may in the future qualify for Veterans benefits. Besides being Veterans planning experts, the attorneys and staff here at the Farr Law Firm are Estate Planning experts, Medicaid planning specialists, and Elder Care attorneys. Please reach out to set up an appointment for your own Elder Care planning or Estate Planning whenever you are ready:

Northern Virginia Veterans Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg, VA Veterans Benefits: 540-479-1435
Rockville, MD Medicaid Asset Protection: 301-519-8041
Washington, DC Aid and Attendance: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.