WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Friday directed the Department of Veteran Affairs to expand its mental health services and suicide prevention efforts.
Obama signed an executive order directing the department to work with the departments of Defense, Education and Health and Human Services to create better suicide prevention programs and to increase access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment for active service members, military families and veterans, the White House Press Office said in a release.
Those departments will work to "develop a National Research Action Plan that will include strategies to improve early diagnosis and treatment effectiveness for [traumatic brain injury] and [post-traumatic shock disorder]," the release said.
Obama directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to employ 800 peer-to-peer counselors "to empower veterans to support other veterans and help ensure that their mental health care and overall service needs are met," the release said.
The president announced the expanded mental health services Friday during a visit to Fort Bliss, Texas, on the second anniversary of the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.
"On this anniversary, we honor the memory of all who gave their lives there -- nearly 4,500 American patriots, including 198 fallen heroes from Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division," he said.
"We're going to increase the number of folks manning those crisis hotlines so help is there when you need it most," Obama said. "We're going to add even more counselors and mental health providers. We're launching a new awareness campaign, starting tomorrow and I'm directing a new task force to find out what works best so we're doing everything we can to help those in need and save lives."
The troops cheered when the president said: "If you're hurting, it's not a sign of weakness to seek help; it's a sign of strength."