Senate VA Committee Conducts Hearing on VA Access to Care

Thu April 26, 2012

(Washington, D.C.) – The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing yesterday to evaluate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to address the growing problem of veterans’ receiving mental health care in a timely and sufficient manner. Chairman Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member (present) Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) led the inquiry by allowing nine witnesses, with various backgrounds, to testify to the efficiency of the Veterans Affairs. The inquiry included representatives from Veterans Affairs, and the VA’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the true availability of mental health care services at VA facilities.

The Department’s recent announcement to hire 1,600 mental health care professionals drew some concerns from the Committee’s members about the Veteran Affairs’ hiring plan details. “While I commend VA for the decision to hire another 1,600 mental health providers,” said Sen. Murray, “there is still no reliable staffing model to determine where these individuals are needed.  Without that model, VA needs to explain how they will know where to place these additional providers.”

Sen. Brown was skeptical of the VA’s foresight into the actual hiring process. Brown questioned the VA representative on how the Department concluded the need for 1,900 positions, why only 2 percent of veterans get outsourced to private providers when there is presently an overload of cases, and the importance of evaluating “immediate risk patients.”

While the VA was receptive to Sen. Brown’s suggestion of outsourcing, they stressed their desire for all immediate risk veterans to be seen within the VA system of providers.

The Inspector General testimony highlighted that there is a discrepancy in the actual numbers of veterans being evaluated within the 14-day period. While the VA reported that 95 percent of first-time patients received a full mental health evaluation within 14 days, the Inspector General’s report found that only about 64 percent of patients were seen during this period.

The American Psychiatric Association submitted a letter to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs offering suggestions to help alleviate the mental health workforce shortage. The APA stands ready to further work with the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, its sister committees and the Veterans Administration to improve access to quality mental health and substance abuse care that our Nation’s returning military, Veterans and their families deserve. 

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