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VA hires 1,600 mental health professionals, including eight in St. Cloud

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it has met the goal to hire 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in President Obama's August 31, 2012, Executive Order to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members, and Military Families. The St. Cloud VA Health Care System has hired eight additional mental health professionals to fill six full-time positions and two part-time positions.

"If in need of immediate assistance, Veterans should not wait to seek care," said Dr. Sherrie Herendeen, director of Mental Health at the St. Cloud VA. "We are strongly committed to meeting the mental health needs of our Veterans, and can get them the care they need."

The newly-hired mental health professionals join more than 250 VA mental health clinicians and support staff working locally to support central Minnesota Veterans at the St. Cloud VA Medical Center and Community Based Outpatient Clinics in Alexandria, Brainerd, and Montevideo.

Since 2006, the St. Cloud VA has seen a 54 percent increase in the number of individual Veterans seen per year in Mental Health, and has increased mental health staff by 69 percent in the same period. In 2012, 9,664 Veterans from throughout Minnesota and the upper Midwest were treated in St. Cloud VA mental health programs.

One major reason for the increase in the number of Veterans seeking mental health services is proactive screening, especially within primary care, to identify Veterans who may have symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol and substance abuse disorders, or who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma, and who need further evaluation and treatment planning if a diagnosis is made, Herendeen added.

In addition to adding more staff, in April of this year the St. Cloud VA started construction of a new 19,000 square foot mental health building. The new building will facilitate the alignment of mental health programs in order to improve efficiencies and begin to close a significant space deficit at the historic, 89-year-old medical center in St. Cloud.

To use VA health care, Veterans must apply for enrollment. To apply, Veterans should contact a County Veteran Service Officer, call the St. Cloud VA at 320-255-6340, or apply online at Immediate help is available anytime at or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

As of May 31, 2013, VA has hired a total of 1,607 mental health clinical providers to meet the goal of 1,600 new mental health professionals outlined in the Executive Order. Additionally, VA has hired 2,005 mental health clinical providers to fill existing vacancies.

"Meeting this hiring milestone significantly enhances our ability to improve access to care for those Veterans seeking mental health services and demonstrates our continued commitment to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served the Nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "Meeting this goal is an important achievement, but we recognize that we must continue to increase access to the quality mental health care Veterans have earned and deserve."

VA provides a full range of comprehensive mental health services across the country. In Fiscal Year 2012, more than 1.3 million Veterans received specialized mental health care from VA. This number has risen each year from 927,052 in Fiscal Year 2006. In addition to hiring more mental health professionals, VA is expanding the use of innovative technology to serve Veterans in rural or underserved areas. VA expects to increase the number of Veterans receiving care from tele-mental health services in fiscal year 2013, and has increased the number of Vet Centers, which provide readjustment counseling and referral services from 233 in 2008 to 300 in 2012.

In November 2011, VA launched an award-winning, national public awareness campaign called Make the Connection, which is aimed at reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and informing Veterans, their families, friends, and members of their communities about VA resources. More information on Make the Connection can be found at

Mental health professionals interested in seeking employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs can obtain information at Veterans and their families interested in learning more about the mental health services provided by VA can go to