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Obama plans executive steps to boost veterans' mental health care

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[August 26, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, weeks after signing legislation to fix delays in veterans' healthcare, will unveil a series of executive actions on Tuesday aimed at improving access to mental health treatment for former service members.

Obama will outline the steps in a speech to the American Legion veterans' organization in Charlotte, North Carolina, the White House said. His appearance comes after he signed a $16.3 billion bill earlier this month to provide veterans with more timely medical care and fix problems in the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department.

The VA was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year after allegations surfaced that it had covered up the months-long wait times some veterans had to endure before receiving medical care.

In addition to outlining steps the government is taking to ensure that "inexcusable delays" in care at some VA facilities do not happen again, Obama said some of his executive actions would focus on improving access to mental health treatment.
 


He said service members leaving the military who are being treated for mental health conditions would now be automatically enrolled in a program in which mental health professionals help them move to VA care.

Currently, service members must be specifically referred to the program by their Defense Department providers or seek out the program on their own.

"Additionally, VA will implement a new policy to ensure that recently discharged service members enrolling in the VA health care system maintain access to mental health medication prescribed by an authorized DoD provider regardless of whether the medication is currently on VAs formulary," the White House said.

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It added that exceptions would occur where the healthcare provider identifies a safety or clinical reason to make a change in medication.

Among other steps are the launch of a $34.4 million suicide prevention study involving 1,800 veterans at 29 VA hospitals and expanding suicide prevention and mental health training for healthcare providers and chaplains who work with veterans.

The White House said Obama would also announce a new voluntary partnership with financial lenders to make it easier for veterans to get mortgage interest rate reductions and reduced monthly payments.

(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Ken Wills)

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