Obama Unveils $100M Initiative Focused on Veterans’ Mental Health
During a speech at the annual conference of Disabled American Veterans in Orlando on Saturday, President Obama announced a $100 million initiative that would guide mental health research to help treat veterans with brain injuries and mental health conditions, the Washington Post reports (Goldfarb, Washington Post, 8/10).
Obama said that with combat activity winding down in Afghanistan, like it has in Iraq, the nation's work to address the health care effects of the two conflicts on military service members "has only just begun" (Calmes, New York Times, 8/10).
He said grants from the initiative will be disbursed to help fund various programs at research centers nationwide, including at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Virginia Commonwealth University. The programs are geared toward developing treatment methods for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions that have been linked to an increase in suicide rates among veterans in the past decade, according to the Post.
Under the initiative, Obama said his administration would launch an effort to better share such research amongst the numerous federal agencies. He noted, "I'm not going to be satisfied until every veteran ... gets the support and help they need to stay strong," adding, "We've got to end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops" (Washington Post, 8/10).
Obama: Claims Backlog Slowly Declining
During his remarks, Obama highlighted progress in the government's efforts to reduce the backlog of veterans' disability claims, but he acknowledged that "[w]e are not where we need to be" (Superville, AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/11).
In March, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said VA is committed to ending the claims backlog by the end of 2015. Shinseki added that three major problem areas have contributed to the backlog:
- Large amounts of paper-based claims and health records that need to be converted to electronic format;
- A need to sync VA's records with Department of Defense's records; and
- A growing number of veterans who are qualifying for disability coverage.
Shinseki has said that VA aims to digitize the disability claims process in every regional office by the end of this year (Hooper, "Hill Tube," The Hill, 3/24).
On Saturday, Obama noted that in the past five months, the number of outstanding veterans' claims has fallen by nearly 20% (Hicks, "Federal Eye," Washington Post, 8/12). According to the AP/Sacramento Bee, the number of claims that have been pending for more than 125 days fell from 611,000 in March to about 500,000 in August (AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/11).
Obama said new computer systems, increased congressional funding and mandatory overtime for claims processors are "turning the tide." However, "it has not moved as fast as I've wanted," he added (Hennessey, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 8/10). He attributed the slow progress, in part, to a swell of new veterans who entered the system with PTSD (Laing, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 8/10).
Obama warned that "reckless" budget cuts under the budget sequester pose the biggest threat to veterans' benefits (Mason, Reuters, 8/10). According to the Washington Post's "Federal Eye," the decline in outstanding claims has slowed since April, when the across-the-board spending cuts took effect and forced VA to cut overtime for processors and shorten call-center hours.
Obama noted that "the best way to protect the VA care you have earned is to get rid of the sequester altogether" ("Federal Eye," Washington Post, 8/12). He called on Congress "to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces our deficit and keeps our promises to our veterans" (Reuters, 8/10).
Obama Reassures Veterans About Coverage
Meanwhile, Obama urged veterans not to be swayed by Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, The Hill's "Blog Briefing Room" reports ("Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 8/10). He said there is a lot of "misinformation" being spread about the law and assured veterans that the ACA will not change coverage for veterans with private health insurance or coverage through VA (Hennessey, Los Angeles Times, 8/10). Obama noted that beginning in October, more than one million uninsured veterans will be able to enroll in coverage through the law's health insurance exchanges ("Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 8/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.