Veterans Can Access Mental Health Services

Most Vets Don’t Know What Mental Health Services VA Offers. So Here You Go


Roughly half of all post-9/11 veterans who may need mental health care do not seek it through the Department of Veterans Affairs or in the private sector, according to a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Alarmingly, the report also says a significant number of veterans are unaware of the services available to them from the Veterans Health Administration — the VA’s medical arm.

Veterans who need mental health care but haven’t sought VA help cite several reasons, including “that they do not know how to apply for VA mental health care benefits, they are unsure whether they are eligible, or they are unaware that VA offers these benefits,” according to the Congressionally mandated Jan. 31 report.

“I was dismayed to learn how many veterans didn’t know how to access care,” Ralph Bozella, Chairman the of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission for The American Legion, told Task & Purpose. “The VA has done a great job advertising their mental healthcare services on the web and via social media.”

But, he added, “At this point, I think the entire veteran community needs to do more to ensure veterans in need link up with the care they require. We all need to play a more active role here.”

To help with that, here’s a list of mental health services the VA provides to recently transitioned veterans.

Are you a combat vet?

Veterans who served in a combat zone can receive medical services — including mental health care — for five years through the VA, beginning the day of their discharge. This isn’t the same as having a service-connected disability rating; instead, think of it as free health insurance. Eligible vets will have free care and medications for any condition that might be related to their service; there’s no enrollment fee or premium, but you do have to cover copayments. This also opens you up to the VA’s CHOICE program, which means you can receive care through a private-sector specialist at the VA’s expense, not yours.

Soon, every transitioning vet can receive a year of mental health care through the VA.

Last month President Donald Trump signed the executive order “Supporting Our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life.” It expands VA mental health care services to the 60% of recently separated vets who were previously deemed ineligible — usually because they lack a verified service-connected disability or service in a combat zone. Beginning in March, all transitioning service members with an honorable discharge will be eligible for 12 months of mental health care through the VA. Though the details of the program are still being worked out, veterans will be eligible to receive care at VA facilities — or in the private sector through CHOICE, if a local clinic can’t meet their needs.

Related: Here’s What We Know About Trump’s Executive Order To Combat Veteran Suicide »

Emergency mental health care is available for veterans with OTH discharges.

Though the executive order provides a year of care to many veterans, it doesn’t cover those with “bad paper” discharges — punitive discharges that preclude access to Veteran Affairs benefits, like education and health care. But last March, the VA launched a separate program offering emergency mental health services for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges. Though not all vets with bad paper are eligible, those with an OTH discharge in need of emergency mental health care can receive treatment through the Veterans Health Administration for up to 90 days — inpatient, residential, or outpatient care.

The VA offers much more if you’re enrolled in their system, though.

Veterans who qualify to register with the Veterans Health Administration enjoy a variety of mental health services. These include counseling, therapy, and, often, a treatment plan that includes prescribed medication. The range of coverage is fairly expansive, with experts able to offer support to veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and stress, among other concerns. Additionally, the VA offers short-term inpatient care for vets suffering from life-threatening mental illness; outpatient care to a psychological rehabilitation and recovery center; video conferencing with a care provider; and residential rehab programs.

If you need immediate help, or just someone to talk to, resources are always available.

For those in need of immediate support, responders with the Veterans Crisis Line can be reached by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1; via text, by sending a message to 838255; or online. The conversations are confidential and the line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week year-round, and the staff is trained to assist veterans of all ages and circumstances.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Veterans’ Day: A Reminder that Heroes Walk Among Us


Frank Hay

The 68-year-old courier has tried to put his memories of the unpopular war in Southeast Asia behind him. He certainly doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Nevertheless, while Frank Hay was making his rounds at Houston Hospice recently, his Vietnam Veteran ball cap was spotted by a staff member who thanked him for his service. He nodded his thanks and thought he’d be on his way until the staff member invited him to talk about the war. Houston Hospice is part of The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s “We Honor Veterans” program. As a result of learning more about the needs of veterans and their families, staff members have a tendency to notice vets.

An 18-Year-Old in America

In 1966, 18-year-old Frank Hay and his family lived a quiet country life on the banks of a lake outside North Guilford, Connecticut. North Guilford is a pleasant town with a volunteer firehouse, a general store and a gas station. As a kid, Frank got a kick out of walking on the lake’s barely submerged island to the astonishment of visitors who thought he was walking on water. With a school career frustrated by dyslexia behind him, Frank went to work as a Railway Postal Clerk. He counted bags of mail that were loaded and unloaded from rail cars as part of the Railway Post Office (RPO). Frank’s family knew young men were being conscripted to assist with a conflict in a place called Vietnam, so they weren’t surprised when he was drafted.

Frank was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for pre-induction physical examinations and testing. His dyslexia caused the army to suspect he was faking to get out of service. However, additional testing revealed a high IQ and the kid who grew up deer hunting in the woods of Connecticut was trained to be a gunner on a helicopter. During basic training Frank recalls thinking the war was a game. “I thought we’d come in and say ‘John Wayne’s here. Step aside.’ The first time someone got shot, I thought, ‘Wow! This is real.”’

Confusing New World


Frank’s first impressions of Vietnam were clouded by confusion. “We’re in our own world in the U.S. and when you go there you realize things are not the same.” He felt disoriented to be in a place where people were so impoverished that they were forced to sell a child rather than part with a cow. Frank had been in Vietnam only seven months when his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing the pilot and co-pilot. He was captured immediately by the enemy who took him into the jungle where they were holding other prisoners of war. There were no POW camps at that time so the enemy cut the sole of Frank’s foot to prevent him from escaping.

Prisoner of War

He remembers being moved constantly for 14 months. “I talked with other prisoners but I didn’t become close because a lot of them died. Some of them went loony.” Fellow POWs died of disease and starvation. Frank figures he lost about 50 pounds. “We’d stay in a hole dug in the ground with bars over it. They fed us rice and fish. I’ll never eat rice again.” During the constant moves, the prisoners were separated and brought back together. Whenever Frank’s foot began to heal, it was cut again. “I took my anger out on God. I’d say ‘Why did you let this happen?’ ‘Why don’t you do something?’ I couldn’t be mad at the enemy. They were soldiers too.”

One day while the prisoners were out of their holes for a move, their encampment came under fire from a U.S. Army helicopter. Everyone ran. Guards ran. Prisovietnam_1967ners ran — in all directions. Frank ended up half running and half hobbling with two other prisoners. “We just kept running until we ran into a U. S. Army unit.” He was taken to a field hospital where he was treated and debriefed. From there, Frank went to a VA hospital. After his injuries healed he was sent home.

People Asked Why I Was There

Frank didn’t stay in touch with any of the guys he met in Vietnam. He didn’t keep a uniform, or a photo or any memento of his service. “After the war, people asked why I was there and why I was fighting and killing. We were just soldiers on both sides. We were only doing what we were told. I just wanted to get on with my life.” Frank recalls being spit on and called a baby killer. He went to the VFW Hall in Guilford, Connecticut where he was ridiculed. “The other vets said that Vietnam was not really a war.” Frank resents being denied camaraderie at the hall. “In those days they had dances, parties and baseball games. Now it’s just a place to go drinking. I’m tired of older people coming up and shaking my hand. Where were you when I came home?”

Frank doesn’t like to talk about the war. But in an act of extreme generosity, he did. He did move on. He moved to Houston and, at 50, met and married his wife who hails from Buffalo, New York. Frank has no desire to return to Vietnam. The courier has moved on but some wounds remain.

We Honor Veterans

About Houston Hospice: As a leader in hospice care for people of all ages and all walks of life, nonprofit Houston Hospice provides for the distinct needs of Veterans and their families through its We Honor Veterans Program. Care is provided to patients and families in private homes and in residential facilities throughout Houston and 10 surrounding counties. Inpatient care is provided in the Houston Hospice Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center in the Texas Medical Center. To learn more about the We Honor Veterans Program and other services, call 713-468-2441 or visit

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Tags : , , ,

Veterans Day: Honoring America’s Veterans Includes Meeting Their Unique Needs

soldier-708711_1280Houston Hospice delivering Veteran-centric care to those who served our country

1 in 4 of All deaths in the U.S. are Veterans

Many Americans do not realize that 1 in 4 of all deaths in the U.S. are Veterans. As the nation honors these American heroes for their military service on Veterans Day, November 11, it’s important to remember that they also deserve recognition and compassionate care when dealing with a serious illness.

As a We Honor Veterans participant, Houston Hospice is providing specialized care to Veterans who are facing a life-limiting illness. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs created We Honor Veterans to empower hospice and other healthcare providers across America to meet the unique needs of seriously ill Veterans and their families.

We’re Intentional About Caring for the Unique Needs of Our Veterans

“Through We Honor Veterans we are taking a giant step forward in helping healthcare professionals and volunteers understand and serve Veterans at the end of life,” said J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president and CEO. “It is time that we step up and acquire the necessary skills and fulfill our mission to serve these men and women with the dignity they deserve.” Houston Hospice CEO, Jim Faucett, noted the benefits of the program to patients and families and the organization, “As we’ve trained to meet the unique needs veterans face at the end of life, our staff has become more aware of all veterans. We’ve been enriched by seeking out our veteran volunteers and learning their stories, and we’re less hesitant to introduce ourselves to other veterans and thank them for their service.”

military-864397_1920Within the We Honor Veterans program, there are four levels of distinction that hospices can earn based on their involvement with Veteran education and their interaction with the Veterans and their family members that they are caring for. The goal of these levels is to ensure the very best care is being provided to those who have served our country. Houston Hospice is working toward the highest level of participation. It is meeting the specific needs of Veterans by being knowledgeable about the wars in which they served and the associated traumas; such as radiation exposure from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests after World War II, and pulmonary maladies resulting from the oil rig fires of the Gulf War. Houston Hospice is also strengthening its relationship with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and offering community outreach educational programs for Veterans’ groups about advance care planning, available resources, and care options.

They Know I UnderstandMikeMcCardle_BronzeStar_ForValor_FtBragg_1968

Houston Hospice volunteer, Mike McCardle, began visiting veteran patients 15 years ago. Because he’s a veteran, he said patients open up to him about their lives and the emotional burdens they’ve carried since battle. “I walk in, give my military pedigree, then they give me theirs and we’re off and running. They know they don’t have to explain. They know I understand.” Mike served in Vietnam from 1964-69. He went to war as a young private and left Southeast Asia just five years later as a battle-seasoned Captain in the United States Army. Often, the wives of the veterans he visits have not even heard the stories their husband’s share with him. “The biggest surprise is how much I get out of it. I form a bond with these guys. I’ve met some real characters. I’ve heard about the Battle of the Bulge, and lots of stories about the South Pacific. I was just mastering my own PTSD and these guys really helped me to know that what I was going through is normal.”

As we celebrate our nation’s heroes this Veterans Day – and every day of the year – we must not forget that it is never too late to give them a hero’s welcome home. Learn more at

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter