Tucson Held VA’s Third Annual Mental Health Summit
The number of veterans dealing with PTSD and other mental health issues continues to grow in Arizona so the VA in Tucson is taking the necessary steps to build a larger safety net for them. The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System recently hosted a Community Mental Health Summit to discuss how to bring better services to help veterans and their families.
Mental Health Summit in Arizona
More than 40 percent of veterans who use VA health services have mental health conditions or substance use disorders, according to the Veterans Administration. So this year, when the community met for their annual summit, their goal was to make connections with the VA and partners in the community that can help.
Among the topics that were discussed at the summit were the following:
- The high suicide rate among veterans, which is estimated to be around 20 per day
- How they can improve the quality of life for veterans and their families
- Getting community partners to provide wrap-around care for veterans and their loved ones
- The new mental health building being built on the Tucson campus
Right now, while veterans can be treated by the VA, their families cannot. This is one of the things the summit wants to change because these issues can take a huge toll on veterans’ loved ones. The VA hopes to collaborate with community partners to provide a wrap around service that offers help to veterans’ family members.
The VA is also building a new mental health building on the Tucson campus. It opens next year in January and will house residential treatment programs for veterans who have substance abuse issues or PTSD. It will be open to veterans to see the primary care doctor and a psychiatrist all in the same day if needed, all without the need of a referral. This is an innovative program that many other VA’s are copying.
When Can Mental Health be Claimed as a Defense?
Mental health is an extremely complicated defense for many reasons. One reason is because psychology is an inexact science and human behavior is extremely complex. When pleading an insanity defense, defendants must be able to prove to the court that they didn’t understand what they were doing. They must have either failed to know right from wrong or acted on an uncontrollable impulse.
Mental health defenses
There are a few different mental health defenses the defense can use:
When using competency as a defense the court focuses on the defendant’s mental limitations at the present time, not during the time the crime was committed. If the defendant is not competent then the government cannot prosecute them. If the judge ever has a reason to believe that the defendant is not competent, they will order the defendant to be evaluated by a psychologist or psychiatrist. The person evaluating the defendant will then prepare a report outlining their opinion on whether the defendant is competent. If it’s the professional’s opinion that the defendant is not competent, they must also state their opinion on whether they will regain their competency in the near future. The court can also hold a competency hearing where the judge hears evidence from the attorneys and other experts and then makes a decision.
Criminal responsibility defenses or an insanity defense focuses on the defendant’s mental status at the time of the crime. To claim lack of criminal responsibility, the defense has to provide the court with pretrial notice that this defense will be used in the trial. If the defendant is found not guilty after the trial by lack of criminal responsibility, a secondary evaluation will be made to determine if the defendant can be treated or if they are a danger to society. A hearing is then held where the defendant will try to show that they are not a threat and should be sentence to treatment.
Photo by Thomas Kriese