Guardsmen could soon have access to on-site mental health help at their monthly drill weekends as part of a partnership between the National Guard Bureau and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The partnership, announced Tuesday, will integrate VA Vet Center staff and the resources they offer with regular drill schedules, officials said. Staff from the 300 centers and 80 mobile units nationwide will work with state and local National Guard commands to decide how best to offer their resources.
The agreement was finalized June 28, officials said.
The goal, said Maj. Robert Perino, a spokesman for the Guard Bureau, is to integrate VA center staff and offerings into the training schedule. But just how that integration looks, he noted, is up to the individual states.
"Different states do things differently," he said. "The main thing is that they're available."
In 2017, the Guard experienced the highest rate of suicide among the services, officials said in a news release. Since then, the number of Guardsmen seeking help from the community-based Vet Centers has increased by 38%, and 2019 year-to-date data show the Guard suicide rate hitting a five-year low, they added.
"This is an important and historic day for the National Guard and Veterans Affairs," Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said in a release. "This partnership will increase our ability to offer access to services to our Guard Soldiers and Airmen and their families who live in remote locations. Ultimately, this partnership will positively impact the readiness of our force."
Guardsmen who are interested in using the Vet Center services during drill should contact their local leadership for more information.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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