New AMVETS program focuses on HEALing vets

Matt Saintsing
March 06, 2018 - 1:03 pm

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We’ve all heard the statistics surrounding mental health in the veteran community. Not only do veterans suffer higher rates of some mental illness, they often don’t know they need the care in the first place, or where to find it.

Within the VA, there are barriers for vets to receive even the most basic of healthcare needs. Enter AMVETS and their new HEAL program.

“We’re facing a growing crisis, and now is the time to talk less and do more to avert it,” said Joe Chenelly, the AMVETS Executive Director.

The new initiative, called HEAL (Healthcare Evaluation, Advocacy, and Legislation), was unveiled by VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin and senior AMVETS officials at a press conference in Washington D.C., Tuesday morning. The program is aimed at helping service members and veterans who are stuck dealing with bureaucratic barriers to VA healthcare, particulary, mental health.

“There exists a need for informed advocates now more than ever to confront rising suicide rates, particularly among veterans who face transition stress soon after leaving service,” said Chenelly.

The HEAL team was set up to ensure healthcare is accessible, and they’ll do it by monitoring how medical and psychological care is delivered. The program will also advocate on veterans’ behalf.

“At the policy level, the VA is responsible for ensuring veterans with complex needs don’t fall through the cracks,” said Lana McKenzie, the chief medical executive for AMVETS, who's leading the HEAL team.

Some of the complex medical conditions many veterans face are linked to their service in recent conflicts.

Nearly one-in-five service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress or depression and there’s similar rates for those returning with a traumatic brain injury. We have IEDs to thank for that.

As a consequence, those who suffer from “traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress — or even both, in many cases — are often bounced around the system because they’re too difficult to treat, or more alarmingly, end up homeless, suicidal, or confined to the margins of society due to inconsistent follow up after discharge,” said McKenzie.


Healthcare will be given from a team of licenses registered nurses who will be responsible for ensuring vets get the care they need through active healthcare monitoring and working with the VA. They’ll also find necessary resources to improve the efficiency of the care.

Through continuous monitoring, the program will evaluate the services provided by the Veterans Health Administration. Assessments and recommendations for improvement will be shared with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

By directly engaging VA healthcare professions, AMVETS will advocate for the needs of veterans, particularly when it comes to mental health, and TBI issues.

The team will also focus on legislation that benefits vets as they navigate through the often murky waters of the VA. They’ll directly engage federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

A healthcare helpline will go live March 19, and veterans can call 1-833-VET-HEAL (838-4325)

“While we have made great progress, we realize there is much more we can do as well as the importance of advancing our programs and services with key partners such as AMVETS,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.