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VA meets goal of hiring 800 mental health counselors

Nov. 6, 2013 - 10:03AM   |  

The Veterans Affairs Department has met a goal mandated by President Obama to hire 800 veteran peer-to-peer counselors, announcing Tuesday it has exceeded the mandate by 15 employees.

According to a VA news release, the department has hired 815 new peer specialists and apprentices to help veterans struggling with mental health issues.

“We have made strong progress to expand veterans’ access to quality mental health services, but we must continue to increase access,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said. “These newly hired employees, veterans themselves, are uniquely equipped to guide fellow veterans through difficult issues.”

The announcement comes four months after VA completed hiring 1,600 additional mental health providers, meeting a goal it set in April 2012.

In August 2012, Obama signed an executive order designed to improve access for veterans to behavioral health care.

In the directive, the president ordered cabinet agencies to work together to expand suicide prevention efforts for troops and veterans and fill mental health vacancies.

He also ordered an expansion of the veterans crisis line by 50 percent and development of procedures to ensure that veterans who identify as being a danger to themselves or others connect with a trained mental health professional within 24 hours.

The new veterans peer-to-peer counselors are a mix of trained and certified specialists as well as apprentices earning their credentials.

VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel said the new hires should complete training by the end of the year.

“We are proud to have exceeded the hiring goal established by the president in his executive order,” Petzel said.

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