A quarter to a third of all service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to display symptoms of a mental disorder. With many of these service members and veterans going on to further their education under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, the nation's colleges and universities must step up their ability to address veterans' mental and behavioral health needs, according to Jeffrey W. Pollard, PhD, George Mason University's director of counseling and psychological services (CAPS).
Pollard testified on May 19 on behalf of APA at a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing, "U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Medical Care: The Crown Jewel and Best Kept Secret." His participation was sponsored by APA's Public Interest and Education Government Relations offices.
Pollard underscored the current challenges faced by college and university mental health facilities and the critical need to reach out to the military and veteran student population.
"Data indicate that students on college and university campuses are increasingly arriving with more severe pre-existing mental and behavioral health problems or developing these health concerns during their college careers," said Pollard. "The increasing civilian mental and behavioral health needs on campus make it even more challenging for colleges and universities to provide sufficient services and supports for the growing population of service members and veterans on campus."
To address these challenges and to enable campuses to meet the mental and behavioral health needs of returning service members and veterans, Pollard provided three key recommendations:
• Sufficient resources must be made available to address the specific mental and behavioral health needs of service members and veterans, including risk of suicide.
• Continuing education and training opportunities must be readily available for college and university mental and behavioral health professionals regarding some of the unique deployment, reintegration, and readjustment issues facing service members, veterans and their families.
• Outreach to service members and veterans who are beginning their post-secondary education online while deployed or upon their return from service must be designed in ways to ensure they don't become socially isolated.
Pollard was accompanied by his colleague, Michael Johnson, who serves as the GMU Military and Veterans Liaison and is himself a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Pollard highlighted some of the initiatives that he and Johnson have recently implemented at GMU to enhance their outreach to service members and veterans, including a needs survey of the GMU military and veteran student population. He also discussed two efforts that are under way: the Mason Military Outreach group, which is a collaboration of students, faculty, and staff in support of service members, veterans, and their families; and the Mason Veteran Peers initiative, which involves a group of veterans who are working with CAPS to provide peer support to veteran students.
In addition, GMU was recently one of 20 institutions of higher education awarded a Success for Veterans Award Grant sponsored by the American Council on Education and the Wal-Mart Foundation. "This grant will help GMU's Military and Veterans Office further evolve into a comprehensive, coordinated one-stop resource and support center," said Pollard.
Also testifying at the hearing was APA member Barbara Van Dahlen Romberg, PhD, founder and president of Give an Hour, a national nonprofit organization providing free mental health services to returning troops, their families and their communities. Romberg discussed how community-based services and outreach, outside of the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs, may be necessary to ensure effective, long-term care for returning soldiers.
Testimony was also presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Easter Seals, which are both members of the Veterans Health Council (VHC). The VHC is a coalition convened by VVA, of more than 30 veterans groups and health-care organizations, including APA, focused on promoting the health and well-being of veterans and their families.
To read Pollard's testimony and to learn about some of APA's policy initiatives focused on service members, veterans, and their families, visit the Public Interest Government Relations Office. To learn more about APA's policy initiatives focused on campus mental health, visit the Education Government Relations Office. To learn more about Give an Hour, visit their website. Learn more about the Veterans Health Council.
Diane L. Elmore, PhD, MPH, is a senior legislative and federal affairs officer and director of the APA Congressional Fellowship Program in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.