BY THOMAS C. HALL, PH.D., CHAIR
Over the past year as the COVID pandemic raged, the PTSD/SA Committee continued to hold virtual meetings and work hard to build and strengthen resources and advocacy efforts. That included grassroots initiatives, such as bringing veterans’ concerns to VA Medical Center directors and contacting members of Congress to hold the VA accountable for implementing legislation tied to our legislative agenda. Committee members and VVA members across the country continue to be active where mental health and substance abuse issues overlap.
With the passage of The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Act and the COMPACT Act in 2020, accountability — which has always been a priority of this committee — is the watchword this year as VA implements the programs, pilots, research, and other requirements of these mental health omnibus bills.
In 2020 the in-person advocacy VVA is so well known for has taken a back seat to virtual advocacy, with all its inherent limitations. At the beginning of last year, I was appointed to the federal advisory board addressing veterans’ readjustment. Over the course of the year we had several virtual meetings to address concerns about counselor burnout and turnover, and to ensure planning is in place to support continuing-care groups once it is safe to hold in-person sessions again. This issue will continue to be a high priority.
Though our in-person workshops on PTSD, secondary PTSD, suicide prevention, and substance use disorder were suspended due to the pandemic, several workshops did take place last year via Zoom. Plans are being developed for more virtual workshops in 2021.
The committee will continue to advocate for policy change in the VA that requires a psych autopsy to be completed after a veteran dies by suicide. The goal is to look for anything that might tell us about signs to look for when a veteran is considering suicide.
Despite the pandemic, members were still able to work with VVA’s Veterans Against Drugs Committee on the National Drug Take Back program, which is sponsored by DEA. This initiative works to get unused and out-of-date medications out of our medicine cabinets, refrigerators, kitchen cabinets, and nightstands.
The committee recognized several veterans for the work they do on PTSD and substance abuse by awarding them the VVA Achievement Medal. In the coming year we also can recognize good work by veterans through the presentation of the PTSD Challenge Coin. The coins are available for purchase through Mokie Porter at the national office. Call 800-882-1316, ext. 146, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The committee is aware that many issues still need attention. What I have shared here are just some of the key priorities that need to be addressed in the coming year. Please keep the committee informed of any concerns you have regarding PTSD, mental health issues, and substance use disorder among veterans. The committee needs your input now more than ever to understand and address the novel challenges the pandemic presents. Grassroots initiatives are the backbone of advocacy.
Our congressional representatives and VA service providers must be held accountable when they fail. It is also important to recognize those who are providing good service to veterans. Legislators and those responsible for implementing legislation and policies aimed at helping veterans must be held accountable to ensure that all veterans come all the way home and have a shot at success in their post-military lives.