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Health & Wellness
On Our Minds is the name of KERA's mental health news initiative. The station began focusing on the issue in 2013, after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Coverage is funded in part by the Donna Wilhelm Family Fund and Cigna.

VA Secretary Talks Plans To Make Care More Efficient

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is working to make health care more efficient and accessible. The MISSION Act, which went into effect last month, allows those enrolled in the VA health care system to visit approved "community care providers."

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie says the initiative will help modernize the VA healthcare system.

"If we can not provide that veteran a service within our facility, then we give that veteran the opportunity of getting that service outside of our department," Wilkie says. "And I think that is a very, very important step forward in making sure that the veterans' health is at the center of what we do."

The act also expands access to urgent care for enrolled veterans. Wilkie says the VA has long worked with the private sector, and the department will evaluate these community care providers to ensure their care is up to VA standards.

When it comes to addressing mental health needs, Wilkie says reducing the rate of veteran suicides nationwide is a top priority.

"We now have a presidential task force on suicide prevention of which I am the lead," he says. "We have to have a national conversation about mental health, homelessness and addiction."

Wilkie says if the department can improve veterans' mental health care, it could serve as a model for other groups.

"We are the most visible population when it comes to addressing this issue," Wilkie says. "It is a population that every American understands at some level, and if we can get it right for us, then I think we can benefit the entire country."