Nov. 29, 2018: HRET of New Jersey Awarded Federal Grant to Improve Veterans’ Mental Health

PRINCETON – The Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey (HRET), an affiliate of the New Jersey Hospital Association, has been awarded a $375,000 federal grant to address mental healthcare issues in the veterans, armed forces and military family community.

The grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), $125,000 every year for three years, will be used to meet three goals: increase understanding of mental illness among the military community; improve the capacity to de-escalate crisis situations; and expand access to mental health services by training peers and providers on the unique needs of veterans, service members and their families.

“We have the obligation to do the right thing on behalf of the men and women – and families – that serve our nation,” said Cathy Bennett, president and CEO of NJHA. “This grant affords us the ability to do the right thing, which is to use proven tools to address the ongoing mental health and substance use disorder crisis among the military community.”

For veterans especially, mental health issues and substance use disorder are more prevalent, more pronounced and more likely to go untreated. Between 36.9 and 50.2 percent of war veterans in the Veterans Administration healthcare system receive a mental disorder diagnosis, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Fewer than 50 percent of those diagnosed receive treatment. Additionally, roughly 11 percent of veterans are diagnosed with a substance use disorder, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that approximately 22 veterans die by suicide every day.

One of the goals of the program is to train seven teams comprised of one veteran and one mental health professional to provide Mental Health First Aid training to veterans, their family members, caregivers and healthcare providers. The seven teams will complete a five-day instructor training with a Master Trainer from the National Council for Behavioral Health.

HRET will work closely with the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ), which has trained more than 10,000 people across a broad spectrum of communities in Mental Health First Aid in the last five years.

Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based practice, recognized as a low-cost, high-impact program that generates community awareness and support. It does not train people to diagnose or treat mental illness – rather it provides essential tools for recognizing and having confidence to support a person experiencing symptoms of mental illness.

“The Mental Health Association in New Jersey is looking forward to partnering with the New Jersey Hospital Association to provide Mental Health First Aid training to benefit our nations veterans,” said Ruth Kaluski, director of Mental Health First Aid for MHANJ. “Under this initiative we will be able to provide an evidenced based curriculum to ensure that veterans, family members and service providers are as aware of the mental health issues veterans may face as they are of the physical challenges.”

The train-the-trainer model is being used to maximize the number of individuals trained in the three years of the project. An expected 1,260 people will be trained by the end of the project.

The grant will also fund:

  • the development of a referral mechanism to connect social service networks, mental health providers and those in need of care, and
  • continuing education to the trainees and other healthcare providers on the unique needs of the military population.

 “This opportunity to provide tools for crisis de-escalation and real-time, effective support for New Jersey’s military community will make a difference in lives across the state,” said Mary Ditri, DHA, director of professional practice at NJHA and project director for the new grant.

Activities under this grant will build on several previous grant-funded initiatives both organizations have undertaken to support the veteran community.

NJHA first employed veterans as health insurance enrollment counselors in 2013 under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Most recently, these Veteran Navigators educated more than 14,000 veterans, military families and healthcare providers on mental health issues and were able to refer more than 1,100 veterans and military families to healthcare providers. (Learn more here:

“MHANJ has a long-term commitment to serve the needs of our New Jersey’s veterans, and this initiative with the NJHA brings together two experienced organizations to positively impact on the mental health of our veterans,” said Robert Kley, chief operating officer and vice president of the MHANJ.