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SEATTLE – Oct.  24, 2019 – Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs and VA Puget Sound Health Care System today announced its collaborative pilot program, called Veterans in Agriculture. The program will run through September 2020 and is aimed at improving veteran’s behavioral and mental health care needs through agriculture training in rural communities.

“Our thanks goes to the Veterans Health Administration and VA Puget Sound Health Care System for partnering with us to enhance mental health access and suicide prevention for rural veterans and their families,” said Lourdes “Alfie” Alvarado-Ramos, WDVA director.  “Helping rural veterans make connections to their earned benefits will make them more resilient and ultimately able to sustain employment leading to healthier lives for themselves and their families.”

Washington State is home to over 112,000 rural veterans.  In rural areas, veterans face high unemployment rates, with fewer employment, training and transportation options as compared to those offered in urban areas.

Through the $621,000 Veterans in Agriculture grant from VA Puget Sound, WDVA will bring together regional partners to support the state’s veteran population with training services in agriculture vocations as well as behavioral and mental health services. Under the program, WDVA and its community partners will provide equipment, tools, materials, supplies and for  hands-on projects and will also provide the training personnel, curriculum, classroom materials, IT equipment and supplies for the classroom training.  Ongoing agricultural engagement activities including an Agricultural Job Fair, pop-up Farmer’s Markets, and agricultural partnerships throughout the year.

“Ensuring the mental health care needs of our veterans requires our whole community to combine forces and make focused investments. Every step we take to advance that goal, is a step in the right direction,” said Michael Tadych, VA Puget Sound director. “Partnering with Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs on this pilot underscores our commitment to grassroot partnerships at all levels to ensure we keep the needs of our veterans—our nation’s heroes—front and center.

In Washington State, only 25 percent of veterans receive their health care from the VA due to various reasons – from ineligibility to residential remoteness.  With the implementation of the MISSION Act, rural veterans have expanded access to community care and a new urgent care benefit.  The VA is also providing telehealth to make it easier for veterans to connect with their care team from home, an outpatient clinic or the hospital. 

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