Section 1. Policy. Since September 11, 2001, more than two million service members have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Long deployments and intense combat conditions require optimal support for the emotional and mental health needs of our service members and their families. The need for mental health services will only increase in the coming years as the Nation deals with the effects of more than a decade of conflict. Reiterating and expanding upon the commitment outlined in my Administration's 2011 report, entitled "Strengthening Our Military Families," we have an obligation to evaluate our progress and continue to build an integrated network of support capable of providing effective mental health services for veterans, service members, and their families. Our public health approach must encompass the practices of disease prevention and the promotion of good health for all military populations throughout their lifespans, both within the health care systems of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and in local communities. Our efforts also must focus on both outreach to veterans and their families and the provision of high quality mental health treatment to those in need. Coordination between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense during service members' transition to civilian life is essential to achieving these goals.
Ensuring that all veterans, service members (Active, Guard, and Reserve alike), and their families receive the support they deserve is a top priority for my Administration. As part of our ongoing efforts to improve all facets of military mental health, this order directs the Secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security to expand suicide prevention strategies and take steps to meet the current and future demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members, and their families.
Sec. 2. Suicide Prevention. (a) By December 31, 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs, in continued collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, shall expand the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line by 50 percent to ensure that veterans have timely access, including by telephone, text, or online chat, to qualified, caring responders who can help address immediate crises and direct veterans to appropriate care. Further, the Department of Veterans Affairs shall ensure that any veteran identifying him or herself as being in crisis connects with a mental health professional or trained mental health worker within 24 hours. The Department of Veterans Affairs also shall expand the number of mental health professionals who are available to see veterans beyond traditional business hours.
(b) The Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense shall jointly develop and implement a national suicide prevention campaign focused on connecting veterans and service members to mental health services. This 12-month campaign, which shall begin on September 1, 2012, will focus on the positive benefits of seeking care and encourage veterans and service members to proactively reach out to support services.
(c) To provide the best mental health and substance abuse prevention, education, and outreach support to our military and their family members, the Department of Defense shall review all of its existing mental health and substance abuse prevention, education, and outreach programs across the military services and the Defense Health Program to identify the key program areas that produce the greatest impact on quality and outcomes, and rank programs within each of these program areas using metrics that assess their effectiveness. By the end of Fiscal Year 2014, existing program resources shall be realigned to ensure that highly ranked programs are implemented across all of the military services and less effective programs are replaced.
Sec. 3. Enhanced Partnerships Between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Community Providers. (a) Within 180 days of the date of this order, in those service areas where the Department of Veterans Affairs has faced challenges in hiring and placing mental health service providers and continues to have unfilled vacancies or long wait times, the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services shall establish pilot projects whereby the Department of Veterans Affairs contracts or develops formal arrangements with community-based providers, such as community mental health clinics, community health centers, substance abuse treatment facilities, and rural health clinics, to test the effectiveness of community partnerships in helping to meet the mental health needs of veterans in a timely way. Pilot sites shall ensure that consumers of community-based services continue to be integrated into the health care systems of the Department of Veterans Affairs. No fewer than 15 pilot projects shall be established.
(b) The Department of Veterans Affairs shall develop guidance for its medical centers and service networks that supports the use of community mental health services, including telehealth services and substance abuse services, where appropriate, to meet demand and facilitate access to care. This guidance shall include recommendations that medical centers and service networks use community-based providers to help meet veterans' mental health needs where objective criteria, which the Department of Veterans Affairs shall define in the form of specific metrics, demonstrate such needs. Such objective criteria should include estimates of wait-times for needed care that exceed established targets.
(c) The Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs shall develop a plan for a rural mental health recruitment initiative to promote opportunities for the Department of Veterans Affairs and rural communities to share mental health providers when demand is insufficient for either the Department of Veterans Affairs or the communities to independently support a full-time provider.
Sec. 4. Expanded Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Services Staffing. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, by December 31, 2013, hire and train 800 peer-to-peer counselors to empower veterans to support other veterans and help meet mental health care needs. In addition, the Secretary shall continue to use all appropriate tools, including collaborative arrangements with community-based providers, pay-setting authorities, loan repayment and scholarships, and partnerships with health care workforce training programs to accomplish the Department of Veterans Affairs' goal of recruiting, hiring, and placing 1,600 mental health professionals by June 30, 2013. The Department of Veterans Affairs also shall evaluate the reporting requirements associated with providing mental health services and reduce paperwork requirements where appropriate. In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs shall update its management performance evaluation system to link performance to meeting mental health service demand.
Sec. 5. Improved Research and Development. (a) The lack of full understanding of the underlying mechanisms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), other mental health conditions, and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has hampered progress in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. In order to improve the coordination of agency research into these conditions and reduce the number of affected men and women through better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Education, in coordination with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, shall establish a National Research Action Plan within 8 months of the date of this order.
(b) The National Research Action Plan shall include strategies to establish surrogate and clinically actionable biomarkers for early diagnosis and treatment effectiveness; develop improved diagnostic criteria for TBI; enhance our understanding of the mechanisms responsible for PTSD, related injuries, and neurological disorders following TBI; foster development of new treatments for these conditions based on a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms; improve data sharing between agencies and academic and industry researchers to accelerate progress and reduce redundant efforts without compromising privacy; and make better use of electronic health records to gain insight into the risk and mitigation of PTSD, TBI, and related injuries. In addition, the National Research Action Plan shall include strategies to support collaborative research to address suicide prevention.
(c) The Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services shall engage in a comprehensive longitudinal mental health study with an emphasis on PTSD, TBI, and related injuries to develop better prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options. Agencies shall continue ongoing collaborative research efforts, with an aim to enroll at least 100,000 service members by December 31, 2012, and include a plan for long-term follow-up with enrollees through a coordinated effort with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Sec. 6. Military and Veterans Mental Health Interagency Task Force. There is established an Interagency Task Force on Military and Veterans Mental Health (Task Force), to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, or their designated representatives.
(a) Membership. In addition to the Co-Chairs, the Task Force shall consist of representatives from:
(i) the Department of Education;
(ii) the Office of Management and Budget;
(iii) the Domestic Policy Council;
(iv) the National Security Staff;
(v) the Office of Science and Technology Policy;
(vi) the Office of National Drug Control Policy; and
(vii) such other executive departments, agencies, or offices as the Co-Chairs may designate.
A member agency of the Task Force shall designate a full-time officer or employee of the Federal Government to perform the Task Force functions.
(b) Mission. Member agencies shall review relevant statutes, policies, and agency training and guidance to identify reforms and take actions that facilitate implementation of the strategies outlined in this order. Member agencies shall work collaboratively on these strategies and also create an inventory of mental health and substance abuse programs and activities to inform this work.
(i) Not later than 180 days after the date of this order, the Task Force shall submit recommendations to the President on strategies to improve mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members, and their families. Every year thereafter, the Task Force shall provide to the President a review of agency actions to enhance mental health and substance abuse treatment services for veterans, service members, and their families consistent with this order, as well as provide additional recommendations for action as appropriate. The Task Force shall define specific goals and metrics that will aid in measuring progress in improving mental health strategies. The Task Force will include cost analysis in the development of all recommendations, and will ensure any new requirements are supported within existing resources.
(ii) In addition to coordinating and reviewing agency efforts to enhance veteran and military mental health services pursuant to this order, the Task Force shall evaluate:
(1) agency efforts to improve care quality and ensure that the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and community-based mental health providers are trained in the most current evidence-based methodologies for treating PTSD, TBI, depression, related mental health conditions, and substance abuse;
(2) agency efforts to improve awareness and reduce stigma for those needing to seek care; and
(3) agency research efforts to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of TBI, PTSD, and related injuries, and explore the need for an external research portfolio review.
(iii) In performing its functions, the Task Force shall consult with relevant nongovernmental experts and organizations as necessary.
Sec. 7. General Provisions. (a) This order shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations.
(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i) the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof; or
(ii) the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.
(c) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
The White House,
August 31, 2012.