Veteran advocate Tammy Duckworth served in Iraq as an Army helicopter pilot and received combat injuries that cost her both legs. She ran for an Illinois congressional seat in 2006, spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, and was appointed last year as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

She answered questions Tuesday about Veterans Affairs via podcast from the White House.

Blast asked: “How will the VA handle the mental health needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan?”

She responded:

“Mental health needs of veterans is a really important issue and one of the things that I mentioned earlier that we’re doing at VA is we’re screening 100% of our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans when they come through the doors of VA. Even if you come in for a sprained ankle, your first time through a VA facility you will get screened for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. That’s really critical because many people don’t even know that they’re suffering from post traumatic stress.

We’re also expanding services across the country. I talked about the mental health hotline. We also have a chat room. We developed the chat room because we realized that a lot of our vets are still in the service. They’re still deployed. They need to be able to talk to a counselor even while they’re down range in Iraq or Afghanistan. So we have the chatroom. It’s “suicide” And they can actually access that. We made both available to family members because a lot of times the vets themselves are in denial, and they’re not asking for help, but it’s mom or dad or wife or husband or child that actually sees the symptoms and needs help, so they can call in as well.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), over 100,000 combat veterans sought help for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health problems between 2001 and 2007. They also say that the youngest veterans–those aged 18 to 24 years–have the greatest risk of mental health diagnoses.

According to a study this year in the American Journal of Public Health, nearly 40 percent of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans receiving health care from VA hospitals suffer from mental illness.

About The Author

Contributing editor John Stephen Dwyer is in love with his native Boston but has also done work in Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris and other cool cities. In recent months he's photographed notables including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, and Rosalynn Carter.

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