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Mental Health Initiative Benefiting Military Vets is Set to Take Next Step

Less than a month after state leaders announced $1 million in state-matching funds to develop coordinated veterans’ mental health programs, local and regional agencies are primed to learn the ins and outs of the application process.

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For Tony Solomon, an Army veteran turned behavioral health advocate, a newly announced state initiative is just what Texas needs to focus on the coordination of mental health care programs for veterans.

“It’s about how can we tackle one or two or three issues with several agencies working together,” said Solomon, director of the Harris County Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative, whose mission is to connect veterans and their families with local, state and federal resources.

Solomon is one of more than 50 people who this week will learn how to apply for grants during the pilot phase of the Texas Veterans Initiative — a joint effort between the state and a nonprofit to provide state matching funds to local mental health efforts benefiting veterans. 

Better coordination among agencies is key to ensuring that veterans receive consistent care as they seek help from the VA and outside providers, Solomon said.

Last month, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus laid out the Texas Veterans Initiative, which is starting with a $1 million investment from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to match local and private funds to expand and better coordinate mental health care services in communities.

"This unique public-private partnership represents an opportunity for the State of Texas, private donors and local communities to work together to create enduring solutions for addressing mental health needs for Texas veterans and their families," Perry said in a November news release on the initiative.

While the Health and Human Services Commission is putting up the investment, the nonprofit Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute will oversee the projects funded by the initiative and evaluate their efficiency.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve looked at how to use state resources more to support veterans’ health and mental health programs given some of the issues we’ve had at the federal level with those services,” HHSC spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman said. “So this is another way to do that.” 

Tom Luce, the Meadows Institute’s CEO, said there has been “a great deal of interest” in the initiative from groups around the state.

In a scheduled webinar Thursday for potential applicants, Luce will lay out the rules for proposals. The deadline to submit proposals is Jan. 15, with grantees to be notified by March 1.

The pilot phase, Luce explained, is expected to generate a backlog of “promising programs” featuring creative regional collaborations that address severe mental health needs not currently met.

Legislation during the 2015 session could be the vehicle to make the initiative more permanent.

Senate Bill 55, by state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would allot more funding for the Veterans Initiative. Nelson said she would seek $20 million in state matching funds over the next two years. 

“There are multiple places in the budget that deal with mental health,” she said, “and as we approach next session, I am reviewing all of them to ensure that we are making the best possible use of our mental health funds." 

Luce and Goodman said the initiative would complement the mental health grant program housed within the Texas Veterans Commission. That program issues grants to local governments and nonprofits and is funded through donations, vehicle registration fees and money from Texas Lottery scratch-off tickets. The program, which began issuing grants this year, awarded 12 one-year grants totaling $1.5 million in July. It does not provide matching funds to grantees.

For Solomon, whose organization works closely with the Veterans Commission, grants coming out of the Veterans Initiative can help create a blueprint of successful programs to help address a growing need.

“These types of initiatives … do a whole lot more than a small community grant” for a program that may or may not be sustainable, he said.

Disclosure: The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute for Texas and the Texas Veterans Commission are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. Tom Luce is a donor to the Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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