Plan annnounced to improve mental health care for veterans

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WICHITA, Kan. — President Barack Obama announced 19 new executive orders today to strengthen access to mental health care for members of the military.

The orders affect the Department Of Defense and the VA. Mental health professionals at the Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita are welcoming the move that includes more money for PTSD research.

The actions announced today include a $34 million suicide prevention study involving 1,800 veterans at 29 VA hospitals nationwide. And there's more research money for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

About two a half million troops have served in the Middle East combat zones over the past decade, and mental health experts say about 10 to 20 percent of them probably have PTSD symptoms of some kind.

So the President's announcement of nearly $80 million in PTSD research came as welcome news to Doctor Aaron Harris, a psychologist at the Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita.

"Our veterans are coming home with PTSD," said Dr.Harris. "It has far-reaching and lots of adverse effects on society."

Harris says the diagnosis of PTSD has only been around about 25 years and a true understanding of the problem has only been in the last 10 to 15 years. And doctors are seeing a link between PTSD and traumatic brain injury or TBI from roadside bombs.

"A high number of veterans are coming home with brain injuries and we have to learn to understand both those diagnosis," said Harris.

Harris said there are now treatments for PTSD and much has been learned.

There's so much more we need to learn on this front," Harris said. "A lot of research needs to be done and so we're heading in the right direction."

Also in the president's executive order: Military members who are receiving mental health care and are leaving the service will be automatically enrolled in a program that transfers them to a new care team in the VA.

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