Rutgers University has launched a new statewide initiative to speed up the process for New Jersey veterans trying to get medical and mental health care.

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Veterans Total Care Initiative is a six-month pilot program supported by a $5 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Health.

Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care National Call Center, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and New Jersey Medical School are all working together to make sure the state's estimated 400,000 veterans get the attention they need.

The program is aimed toward veterans who may be dissatisfied with the services provided by the Veterans Administration or who lack health insurance.

"You have some individuals who have been waiting for appointments for quite some time with the VA (Veterans Affairs)," said Terrell McCain, a program manager at the call center and an Iraq veteran who had to wait years to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Under the program, according to McCain, veterans can line up appointments within a few days. In some cases, appointments have been made for the same day.

McCain said anyone who served in the military can receive help from the program.

"The hope is that individuals who have served in the military and have done a service for their country, realize that there are resources out in the community available to them," McCain said.

McCain says this initiative will hopefully speed up delivery to vets of a variety of programs including help with PTSD, behavioral health care, preventive care and women's care.

The initiative also includes a peer-to-peer component, which makes it unique in that it provides integrated care to veterans. For example, peer counselors assist veterans in setting up medical appointments and provide follow-up support.

"Since many of the veterans who call are anxious and have needs beyond health care, the peer support component is essential. The peer counselors, who are veterans themselves, can alleviate their anxiety and assure them they will stay with them through the entire process," said Major General Mark Graham, senior director of the call center.

Veterans who want access to the initiative can find out more by calling 866-838-7654. McCain said that will be the "gateway" to finding out the answers that they may need.

During the initiative's first week of operations earlier this month, 20 veterans were helped.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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