New Mexico Offering Free Mental Health Services to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

New Mexico took a step for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans across the state when it announced that starting on March 15, these vets would be eligible to receive free mental health care for a minimum of one year following their discharge.

The New Mexico Veterans Counseling and Therapy Project (NMVC&TP) was designed for the more than 50,000 New Mexican residents who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and lack confidence in the Veterans Affairs system, believe that they are ineligible for such services, or are uneasy about receiving mental health care because of its associated stigma.

"This is the first collaborative effort between private and state agencies in the country to provide statewide pro-bono mental health counseling for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans," explained New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services Secretary Timothy Hale.

"Nearly 500 veterans in the state can [now] receive the immediate help they need now rather than waiting for any veterans' benefits paperwork to be filled out and processed – which can take awhile to be completed."

NMVC&TP not only provides a safe place for veterans to express their deep-rooted mental issues, but also serves to combat the all-too-common problems of homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.

The program's website directs veterans to a list of participating mental health providers, along with resources for further care. Veterans of other wars can also find information to receive mental health care.

"This project has pulled together a team of highly qualified, licensed practitioners in every county in the state," said Adrian Apodaca, an Iraq war veteran and special programming manager for the New Mexico Behavioral Health Services Division.

"These practitioners signed up for the program wanting to give something back to the men and women who have made the sacrifice to secure our nation's future."

Because New Mexico's Access to Recovery program is one of the best in the country, it receives substantial federal funding while veterans in other states may not be so lucky due to recent sequester-related cuts.

At least 15% of the nearly 2.4 million Americans who served Iraq or Afghanistan are estimated to have post-traumatic stress disorder or other post-combat behavioral issues.