June 5, 2013 Blog Publisher’s Post: Our Collaborative Veterans Initiative

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John S. Shelton, PhD

Publisher of The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Memphis, Tennessee


Our country has a solemn obligation to return the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to complete health whenever possible. Fulfilling that obligation requires a collaborative effort by all segments of society including the government, nonprofit institutions, and private enterprise.

In theory, active duty soldiers leaving the military should turn to the Veterans Administration (VA) for any health-related issues if they are eligible. Unfortunately, many returning soldiers don’t even contact the VA or, if they do, are not able to receive treatment in an efficient and expeditious manner. Recent news reports are full of examples of service personnel waiting for months to be seen at the VA. Thus, many look for medical care in their local communities outside the VA system.

Diagnosis and treatment of veterans returning from the front lines can be difficult at best, and many of the most confounding ailments are related to mental illness. According to a 2012 Congressional Budget Office report, half of veterans treated by the VA have mental illness diagnoses, including about 25% with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); other common conditions include traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. When combat veterans with mental illness reach out to health care providers outside the VA, many find that these individuals are unequipped to address their specific needs.

Unfortunately, this problem will only increase as we bring our soldiers home. To tackle this problem head on, the Aspen Institute and The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (JCP) have partnered. Founded in 1950, the Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

Working together, we created the Veteran’s Initiative last year. This is a national effort uniquely designed to discover and disseminate innovative strategies to engage health care providers, veterans, and families of veterans in mental health educational initiatives that are user friendly, free of stigma, and readily accessible.

We began this Initiative by reaching out to expert advisors to guide development of a curriculum to bring best practices in mental health to providers outside the VA who work with veterans. This advisory group, which is meeting for the second time in June at the Aspen Institute, includes representatives from the VA, the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, National Center for PTSD, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Give an Hour, Corporation for National and Community Service, and Wounded Warrior Project. Initial funding for the Initiative came from Blue Shield of California Foundation.

We have established a vigorous 5-year plan that includes a number of important elements:

  • Hosting several public and private events that focus on successful interventions to meet the mental health needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Utilizing the resources of JCP to establish and disseminate online evidence-based educational modules for providers who encounter returning veterans, including clinicians, social workers, teachers, and mental health professionals
  • Developing, a website for veterans and their families to find peer counseling, self-help tools, and a social network
  • Creating a Veterans Track at the Aspen Health Forum and the Aspen Ideas Festival

By collaborating, Aspen and JCP will be able to provide resources for health care providers to improve the mental health of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who have returned home.

Financial disclosure:Dr Shelton is the owner and president of Physicians Postgraduate Press, Inc.​

Category: Mental Illness , Veteran
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