New Mexico Not Waiting for Feds to Help Returning Veterans

By Susan Jones | November 15, 2012 | 8:48 AM EST

Army Pfc. Kevin Trimble, 19, adjusts his myoelectric upper limb prosthetic as he head in to occupational therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on March 7, 2012. Kevin ha lost both legs above the knee and an arm from a bomb in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/San Antonio Express-News, Lisa Krantz, File)

( - New Mexico isn't depending on the federal government to meet the growing demand for mental health services for returning veterans.

The state put out a call for volunteers to provide free counseling, with good results.

More than 450 counselors, psychologists and social workers have signed up to offer their services to troops returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We owe tremendous gratitude to the men and women who have bravely worn our country’s uniform to protect freedom and liberty here at home and around the world,” said Governor Susanna Martinez in her Veterans' Day announcement.

“One way we can show our appreciation for our veterans is to provide them the services they need once they return to civilian life. Through a statewide initiative to recruit mental health professionals to provide free care to returning veterans, we can provide individuals who put everything on the line for us with an easier transition to their lives here at home."

The statewide initiative -- led by the state's Counseling and Therapy Practice Board, the Board of Social Work Examiners, and the Board of Psychologist Examiners -- encourages state health care institutions, licensed counselors, and therapists to provide returning veterans and their families with free mental health counseling and therapy services for up to one year after they return from service.

The mental health professionals will begin offering their free services starting in January 2013 in every county across New Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs in June announced plans to hire 1,900 mental health professionals nationwide to provide help for returning military personnel who may be suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which the VA believes could be affecting up to 20 percent of veterans involved in the global war on terror.

However, as Martinez noted, the completion of the federal hiring effort may still be years down the road.

New Mexico's Counseling and Therapy Practice Board, the Board of Social Work Examiners, and the Board of Psychologist Examiners are working with both state and federal veterans’ affairs departments, along with the University of New Mexico, Presbyterian Health Services and other community groups to implement the volunteer program in all 32 counties.

According to the VA, nearly 2.1 million Americans have served in the U.S. Armed Forces since the global war on terror began shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.