The Swarm opinion blog: VA adds reinforcements to help families on the home front

Published: Sunday, Apr. 29, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

As legions of military men and women return from dusty, dangerous hamlets in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government is realizing that it's not only veterans who need help making the transition to civilian life, it's their families as well.

Even more, the Department of Veterans Affairs is starting to do something about it.

The latest move: The department announced Tuesday that it is expanding its mental health services to include marriage and family therapists, as well as licensed professional mental health counselors. Those two fields will be included among the additional 1,900 mental health staffers that the VA plans to hire nationwide.

"The addition of these two mental health professions is an important part of VA's mission to expand access to mental health services," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "Veterans and their families can face unique challenges. By providing a complete range of services, we can help them address those challenges and help keep more families together."

In addition, because the new workers will be hired locally, it could provide a little boost to job markets across California, where the unemployment rate is still above the national average and where a large number of veterans live.

The VA also recently launched a new program that provides more aid to families of injured veterans who need help with daily living. As I wrote in February, the caregiver support program gives spouses monthly stipends of as much as $2,000, plus health insurance and travel expenses.

While the image we often see on TV is of happy reunions when soldiers come home, the fact is that divorce and marital stress are a reality, one made worse by repeated, lengthy deployments of our all-volunteer military. With all the issues that returning vets have on their plate, family support is essential.

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