WASHINGTON, Dec. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced an agency goal of investing up to $50 million to increase access to mental healthcare in rural areas.
Vilsack said the funding would be used for the construction, expansion, or equipping of rural mental health facilities and will be provided through the Community Facilities direct loan program.
"We need to be sure that every American has access to quality mental health services, including Americans living in rural areas," Vilsack said in a statement.
"As part of the Obama administration's effort to expand access to treatment for those suffering from mental health problems, the USDA investments in mental healthcare facilities will reduce the difficulty many rural families face in accessing mental health help. These funds can also help expand and improve upon the services already offered by mental health facilities in rural communities, many of which increasingly are focused on helping military veterans."
The funding announcement builds on steps by the administration to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental illness, Vilsack said.
Ensuring rural Americans have access to quality healthcare is a top priority for USDA, Vilsack said.
This year, USDA invested more than $649 million in 130 rural healthcare facilities -- serving nearly 3.2 million rural residents. These investments included critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, psychiatric hospitals, mental healthcare facilities, group homes for people with disabilities, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and vocation and medical rehabilitation facilities, Vilsack said.
The USDA is also investing in innovative healthcare technologies such as telemedicine -- using technology to monitor those with chronic disease such as heart failure -- to further expand access to healthcare services throughout rural America.