VA Mental Health Care Examined at Hearing
Ranking Member Michaud urges additional approaches
WASHINGTON, DC – The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing today on the mental health care services provided to veterans. The hearing examined a broad range of issues, including veteran suicide, providing timely access and quality care, and the progress VA has made in a variety of areas concerning mental health.
“The VA’s recent move to provide more accurate data on suicide rates among veterans is going to help us address this tragic problem. It’s clear, however, that the rates are too high and we can’t expect that doing more of the same will suffice,” said Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine-02), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We must continue to reduce the stigma too often associated with seeking mental health care. Ensuring that at risk servicemembers are connected with the VA in a way that promotes continuity of care is essential. We should also further explore increasing the pool of providers and partnering with the public and private sector to expand access to effective mental health care. Moving forward we must think outside the box. Our nation has a responsibility to care for those who have sacrificed. I look forward to working with the VA to build on the improvements they’ve made.”
VA boasts the largest cadre of integrated mental health professionals in the country and offers a broad array of services in a variety of settings. According to testimony by Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health, since FY 2006, the number of veterans receiving specialized mental health treatment has risen each year from 927,052 to more than 1.3 million in FY 2012. Petzel attributes this increase to screening to identify veterans who may have symptoms of depression, PTSD, problematic use of alcohol, or who have experienced military sexual trauma.
To address mental health care staffing shortages, VA announced last April that it would add 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce. To date VA has hired 1,058 clinical providers and 223 administrative support staff toward this goal.
While progress has been made, challenges remain. An April 2012 VA Office of Inspector General report found that VA was inaccurate in reporting whether a patient was receiving timely mental health care. Additionally, in a Government Accountability Office report released in December 2012, it was found that the outpatient medical appointment wait times reported by the Veterans Health Administration are unreliable.