It is not just our obligation to care for military veterans. It is an honor. There is a significant amount of discussion about the responsibility of the Veterans Administration and the federal government to care for returning soldiers. However, taking care of people requires a total community investment. The expectation that the VA alone can provide total care for all the veterans is an unrealistic expectation.

The Veterans Health Administration in the United States currently provides treatment at 1,233 health care facilities, including 168 VA Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient sites. In 2016, the Veterans Health Administration operated 243 Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Programs with 8,034 beds at 113 VA Medical Centers.

From 2001-2012, during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the military deployed 2.4 million personnel. Nationwide, it was estimated that almost 730,000 of the returning soldiers would have a mental health condition that requires treatment. In Texas, it was estimated that 70,000 would need mental healthcare, followed by California at 63,000, and Florida at 50,000. It is estimated that fewer than 50% of these individuals received any mental health treatment.

The latest data compiled by the VA estimated that by September 2017 there will be 21,065,561 veterans nationwide and 1,665,401 will reside in Texas.

At least 40 percent of veterans live in rural areas.

To address the gap in services to veterans in rural West Texas, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health recently partnered with VetStar to leverage telemedicine counseling services to veterans in a twenty county area. The project’s goal is to have a variety of veteran-dedicated mental health options available based on the needs identified when the veteran and/or family member are engaged by the Pathfinders or present themselves for assistance. The primary services offered by South Plains Veterans Telemedicine Services consist of outreach and assessment, evaluation by a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), creation of a short and long term treatment plan for each veteran, and treatment or referral for treatment.

The Institute currently has a similar model that has been used in rural schools and was designated as a best practice in rural schools by the Texas House Select Committee on Mental Health. The program is the Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) Project. Students are identified and screened for risk-based behaviors in schools then provided telepsychiatric services by TTUHSC Psychiatry over a telemedicine link.

Through the telemedicine link to services, the F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health and VetStar will have the capability to reach out to veterans in rural communities at various convenient locations, at Starcare offices, or those incarcerated and provide them with mental health treatment, referrals, and resources to ensure each veteran has the ability to access and receive adequate treatment regardless of his or her access to transportation.

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Ronald Martin is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor in Texas. He currently works at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock with the TWITR project providing mental health assistance to adolescents in rural schools. He also provides mental health assessments in local emergency rooms. Ron retired from law enforcement after thirty-seven years. He retired as a Chief and National Chaplain from the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Field Operations, El Paso, Texas in 2013. During the course of his career he served as an instructor and course developer for the National Chaplain Academy presented at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers in Artesia, NM and Glynco, GA.