Veterans Affairs Department Under Scrutiny Regarding Mental Health

Veterans Affairs Department Under Scrutiny Regarding Mental Health

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by Levi Newman on December 9, 2011

 

The Veterans Affairs Committee has recently asked the Veterans Affairs Department inspector general to investigate alleged failings in providing timely mental health care appointments for former service members.

The request comes after a Nov. 30 hearing at which a VA employee said some VA providers “game the system” to ensure they meet timeliness standards. An IG audit will be used to determine if setting and recording appointments were properly managed.

According to a survey of VA mental health practitioners, a third of veterans wait longer than 14 days, and in some cases more than two months for their first mental health appointment. A veteran’s first appointment to begin mental health treatment is often just an administrative visit, and the follow-up, the first therapeutic appointment, can be scheduled out as far as another four to six weeks.

VA officials said they have increased mental health staff by 47.8 percent, from 14,207 to more than 21,000. They also claim that expanded telehealth services and other programs have helped veterans transition to civilian life, thereby decreasing the need for one-on-one visits.

VA spokesman Josh Taylor told the Military Times, “We know from independent reports that access to VA mental health care is equal to or better than private medical practices, and we continue to research ways to improve the measurement of that access.”

Also under scrutiny is a full accounting of the $5.7 billion provided in VA’s fiscal 2011 budget for mental health.

 

Photo thanks to programwitch under creative commons license on Flickr.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Cynthia Chavez December 9, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I dealt with the VA in WLA for 2 yrs while my father was in their skilled nursing facility. It was a mess!! Unfortunately, our experience was the majority of workers did not care about the veterans as much as they did about the money. Poor care and too much of looking the other way was a huge problem. The VA system needs a complete revamping. And now the Government wants to take more money away from it…….nothing good can come of it.

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Jerry Kendzior December 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Took me 20 years to get any help let alone the mental health assistance I should have been getting all along.

Now that I have liver issues and can’t take just any medication because of it they are fighting other options such as rTms. I read recently in the Army Times they want to slow or stop the Suicide statistics in the branches…how do you propose to stop it when you’re more worried about the stats and your image than the men and women you left behind?

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Rick December 9, 2011 at 3:58 pm

It took me four years to get in to see a ptsd therapist and psychologist. Only after I became somewhat over the deep end did they begin to take me serious. I still have trouble, but they “have done all they can”. I am left hanging.

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John Bankhead December 9, 2011 at 4:01 pm

LOVE IT!!!

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Kathryn StJohn December 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm

No different than any other special care at VA. I have been in the system for 3 years now. It takes forever I was asked about PTSD and or sexual trauma related to my service and when I told them yes I would like to speak to someone about it they just clammed up never heard another word from anyone.

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idiotproof54 December 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Naval Retiree P.O.2 Ward here…My “adventure” with the V.A., began in 2008 and I stopped in 2010. I didn’t feel I was getting adequate “care” for my physical ailments, so why, I pondered, bother with getting any mental health problems dealt with, i.e., depression, caused by years of diabetes, insulin, pain , pain, ….especially after hearing and reading many horror stories. An interesting book written and published in 1981, by Robert Klein, who trained at two VA Hospitals, and is also an award-winning investigative reporter it is called “Wounded Men, Broken Promises”. It’s a book about America and Veterans. It details a scathing indictment of the VA hospital system. It’s a must read, even if it was written 30 years ago. Should we really expect anything has improved in the VA system? With an annual budget of billions of tax payer dollars, why does it take so long for the many Veterans with PTSD and other mental health issues, to get seen by a “specialist”, or Doctor, for that matter? Veterans are being ignored more and more everyday. The enemies (domestic) of our US Constitution, are in the courtyard of Washington. America is now a “battlefield.”

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james December 9, 2011 at 5:14 pm

i am a veteran who see’s mental health but have not gone becuase of employee’s was allow to tell 3rd person on where i went for medcial care and also had death threats from same people after i reported them and other employee steal money from a nursing home Patient and now i even can’t get medcial care becuase i was told by the VA to call Eligibilty in Atlanta to withdraw from the VA system.

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cathy December 9, 2011 at 5:22 pm

So true this happened to me. It was about six months before I got an appt and I had to keep calling them to get one.

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Robbin Richburg December 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm

It is so sad, but your stress reduction kit is so accurate. We ask members of our military to fight wars, make sacrifices and endure trauma. What kind of leaders do we have in our country, when there is no preparedness for the emotional wounds these brave men and women come home with. They wait for months, years, for some help. How many give up before help comes? Taking care of those who take care of us, is a priority!

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Gilbert H. Juan December 9, 2011 at 8:34 pm

I have been diagnosed with PTSD. My first appointment was September 29, 2011. The next appointment I had was on November 7, 2011, and I just had another appointment on December 6, 2011. My next one is scheduled for January 13, 2012. Besides my first appointment, so far my appointments and or PTSD treatments have been about a month apart.

I am still looking for an answer about how long does it take the VA to determine a claim? I am already Service Connected, does that make any difference? Or not?

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lorenzo sloan December 22, 2011 at 5:41 pm

If your service connected& if your current health can be connected to your present service connected condition,the VA will increase your benefit payments.

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Richard Dale January 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm

gilbert i agree with u 100% i see two thereapist and my appoitments are like 3 months apart now what happens if i need help before my apptment? i have to call and hope im able to talk to someone. im allready service connected as well and im being denied disability for my neck which i broke my c1-c2 and have a seizure disorder but they tell me i dont have a seizure disorder even though i take medication now im not the smartest light bulb in the packege becouse of my mentall illness but that dont make sense to me i just dont understand why they cant just give it to me as i have sent them a ton of documentation that they wanted and i still get denied what in the world is wrong with the va

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Barb Cannon December 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm

My husband (a combat Vet) was given 30% for PTSD and never was given a follow up, NO phone calls are ever returned from the KINGMAN AZ VA Medical center, and All medications to treat this are coming out of our pockets ! So, this comes as NO surprise

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Debbie December 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm

The VA will always have excuses for the lack of quality mental health care! There are long waits for appointments. Staff turn over, lack of consistent staff. Discharges too soon from inpatient stays which lead to suicides or attempts and more issues as a result of poor care! The va don’t care they just care about excuses!!

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Brian Tingey December 9, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I don’t remember how long it took me to get in the first time, but I know its at least a month wait before I can get in now.
I also waited 13 months to get a sleep study done to determine I have sleep apnea.
I have been waiting 4 months now to get into the pain management doc and it isn’t scheduled until Feb. Everything is a months or more wait unless its a call to one of the teams for urgent care and then its still the next day.

I’ve been going to the VA since 1998 and it has always been a joke. No way are they equal to or better than civilian appointments. Not even close. I also have been playing games for all this time for comp and pen that a judge finally ordered that my case is legit. Only took 13 years but hey at last it went through.

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Bob Livio December 9, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Came home from Vietnam Sept 25, 1970. I had major issues on returning home to the so called free world. Personally killed 44 Vietnamese combatants and civilians that weren’t where they was supposed to be (aka) collateral damage victims. The issues followed me home, where I did earlier attend church prior to Vietnam. Instead of being seen within weeks of returning back to active duty, I was no longer myself as I was once before. Having a rifle thrown at me upon my newest duty station and told to requalify my shooting ability and start to play war games, and go on countless forced marches, I was totally against as I needed to turn down the rage inside me. I had no care for human life, just a way of war. Instead of going along with these orders I opted to go to sickbay on a daily basis. I was asked what my problem was I replied i have to caalm down and speak to someone about coping with life. None were offered or were available. I contined to refuse to go about my daily military life feeling like a loner now, no one cared or offered me any help/assistance. When told I would be offered an administrative discharge and maybe get my help outside of the Marine Corps. I thought aabout it for the next few weeks and agreed to it. Unknown to me until 1-2 hrs of being discharged I was then told that an administrative discharge meant an Undesirable discharge for the good of the service. At 20 yrs old to me it seemed maybe to get piece of mind back into order. I was then was with my morning formation when the discharge would be ready. I was told by a Capt. that after receiving this discharge I would no longer be able to collect any more benefits from the VA I could be medically treated for life though, but no type of compensaation benefits. Being 20 yrs old I was in tip top shape and thought only of a life free from the miltary that had me kill people or be killed. Maybe if I went back to church and learn to be civilized again I could function again as a good citizen of our great country. Well things didnt work out the nightmares became worse, nothing helped me. I was diagnosed in 1975 as having severe PTSS through the VA, which later chnged the letters to PTSD. I must close this for now but can be contacted via email, because the story has a history note worthy.

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Gary Kottkamp December 10, 2011 at 12:55 am

I wish I had this way back when I was filing for disability in the early 70′s. It only took 26 yrs. to finally get it. Could have saved alot of money.

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Wiley Dodd December 10, 2011 at 9:47 am

Once your in the system it’s a good system with good care here in Michigan. It’s getting to the level of disability they require that’s an up hill battle. PTSD Most patients 30% no matter there condition. Then appeal 2 year wait 50% no matter your condition. Finally after 4 years when you hit that magic number of 70% your in and they take care. Unfortunately during the 4 years it takes your life is in a complete shambles usually divorce drinking problems or drugs and maybe suicide

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Andy December 10, 2011 at 10:01 am

More Veterans should be referred to or come to their local Vet Center first.

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bonnie kerr December 10, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Why are our female vets coming back from combat are told they don’t qualifying? Jacksonville FL. VA tells vets they don’t qualify when they do. PTSDis a big deal! Jacksonville’s VA reminds me of the movie Article 99 where vets are turned away because his wounds weren’t visual. I had this happen to me yrs ago. While my husband had an appt at the VA I decided to see what they would tell me. I am glad to say I was given my benefits. I have had some DRS at the VA that I wouldn’t allow them treat my pet let alone myself! Yes, I do suffer from PTSD, I am blessed to have a good mental health Dr.. I know that 7 vets are sent a container of medical pot on the 17th of every month. If you test positive for pot & pain meds thru the VA you have to attend there drug program…. A lot of us feel that the VA would rather get us addicted to pain meds than to smoke pot that helps & not as addictive.

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Michael December 11, 2011 at 9:09 am

I can tell you that the service right now I am recieving in the Broward County Florida VA is very good. They follow up and seem to really care, and for that I am very thankful. Like I said, it is “now’ and I do not know about previous or other VA’s just that the one I go to and the Miami VA network is very good.

My two cents,

USMC

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Disillusioned wife of a veteran December 11, 2011 at 10:39 am

I feel for ANYONE who has to deal with the VA. I will say if you RAISE enough of the roof… you can get help! My children had to scream/cry louder then the veteran but at least they finally found his record and took care of him… I think.. of course I still watch him choose between a colorful variety of meds … it’s GREAT (note the sarcasm) that being said I am grateful for the help they finally provided. My boys watch their Dad become someone who no longer runs and plays with them (neglected health care issues) but at least they can live in a house that has heat! Never mind the damage the incompetence that is seemingly built into the system caused to the family when we were trying to get him help. Thank GOD I am strong enough to not give up and refused to allow him to give up… maybe he will be okay after all is said and done! The VA is improving and with that said… some of these Vets who take advantage of the system, ie submitting travel pay request for a distance of 50 miles or more when they hopped on a bus and rode it across town has to stop. Saw it with my own two eyes and just stood there looking at the man whom laughed about scamming the VA med center in Columbia, SC in utter amazement the whole mess has changed my view of our system as a whole. WOW, who knew the impact of not taking care of the issue at hand could create such a huge problems for the men/women we look at and say “Thank you for your Service” to.. it is almost as if that is part of the job training for VA employees! Seriously? Listen to the veteran! Did you know that according to Medicare that VA medical care is not considered “credible healthcare”? I was shocked to learn that!

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George Waris December 11, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Let me establish a timeline about my care. Began July 1975 after being asked not to reenlist (perm L-3 Profile). Enrolled Saint Louis University with outpatient care; rotating providers. Began working at V.A. 1/16/1980 thru 7/15/1998. Medically retired since then. Outpatient and inpatient care still contiuous.
Read a lot of people’s comments with a lot of concerns. As an insider, before and after I was retired, many problems with care and/or providers were fixed using the Service Officers (DAV, etc.).
Not asking will always be a no.

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Scott matheson December 22, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I was granted a medical discharge in 1995 after damaging both knees in Airborne School. I was Infantry and my knees could not take the pounding. I have been at 20% since 1995. I now have to wear knee braces, walk with a cane if I am walking any distance, need surgery to clean up cartilage tears and scar tissue, and deal with pain with 4,500 mg of Tylenol and 3,200 mg of Ibuprophen a day. I work as an EMT and have been moved off the ambulance and now drive a wheel chair van because I can’t kneel, and have a hard time with stairs..ect. The VA tells me I am fine because I still have good range of motion and refuses to increase my rate. All the VA Medical Center and the VA Office in Manchester New Hampshire care about are their pay checks. They make me sick. So now I have to pay for surgery out of pocket to try and get some relief and maybe a normal life. So glad I served my country, would never have if I new my country would forsake me after they broke me.

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Scott Fisher December 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I am an Army vet with 16 years of service. Prior to joining the Army I had no mental disorders but after being honorably discharched I have had some problems and have been diagnosed by the VA with bipolar type I and a few others. They gave me meds and such and I also saw a doctor about it. So far…they have been great but what do I expect after I can’t work? The meds allow me to work and if I am told that I can’t work any more…what do I do? I work in the steel/off shore industry. It’s bad enough I have to have medical insurance plus the advantage of the VA to fall back on….but what happens next? Do I have to hang my hopes on a MAYBE? Oh and by the way…I signed a contract for my medical to be covered if I recieved an honorable discharge…so what are the bills for? Shove them you know where! I went to war for the U.S.A. and now I gotta pay? If this is how it is gonna be…a back problem I see in the future. Incurable in fact and a law suit to follow. I don’t want to be a pansy-assed guy or anything…but come on…I did my part…you do yours. I put my life in harms way for a maybe?

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K.A.A. December 22, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I just finished 3 years of DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOR THERAPY for Borderline Personality Disorder, I am 100% service connected for PTSD, 60% service connected for HepC, 20% connected for Liver Cancer. Yes, my 12yrs serving exposed me to tainted blood, a surgery gone bad, and the horror of waking up on the surgery table. The Mental Health system in North Little Rock Arkansas is falling apart. I have never been treated for my PTSD, which is service connected, but treated for BPD, which is not service connected. I improved some over the years, but with the types of meds I am prescribed I feel I need to be followed up with monthly visits to my therapist or med provider. My therapist of 3 years said he no longer will participate in the DBT program, so if I continue to see him, I will no longer receive travel pay and I I live 100 miles from the “specialist”. I was offered a “counselor” at a walk in clinic only 40 miles from me, and would be paid travel pay to see him or her. I don’t know how everyone else feels, but after 3 years with a specialist who is trained to help those like me, I find it a slap in the face to screw with my mental health and refer me to a counselor, a “empathetic ear” – just so the VA system does not have to pay me travel pay for 60 extra miles. I would drive it, but the wear and tear on my vehicle after 3 years is just too much. I am so overwhelmed and find daily living very difficult. I don’t know what to make of my situation or how to ever come to a healing point. I want to be human again, and I don’t know how… and a empathetic ear is just not enouch for the wounds Ive suffered at the hands of people who knew better….

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Ron Baker August 2, 2012 at 12:58 am

I went to the ER in 2009 at the Greater Los Angeles healthcare. I just felt I would not get the help I needed. But you know what? I was treated with respect, dignity and care. I was seen immediately and got help! They started my therapy, got me the correct meds, scheduled follow up and assign me a primary care doctor I was floored and thankful.

The (VA) Greater Los Angeles Healthcare saved my life and family and I am grateful. The VA has come a long way in learning how to handle and treat PTSD and provide veterans the world-class care. Some VA’s healthcares are better than others. The system is still over worked and understaffed especially mental health system.

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M.A. Coker August 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Can Anybody Help Me? I am writing to you in hopes that someone can help me., I was in the U.S. Coast Guard from 11/30/1987 to 05/19/1988 this is 5 months and 20 days just short of 6 months, they actually moved the date forward on me for my discharge, which I think was to purposely exclude me from any benefits. Months before being discharged I was having a lot of depression, anxiety, etc. and was very messed up in the head, I saw the Chaplain everyday and talked, I saw Doctors, Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other doctors and took many tests. I was never treated for any of my problems at all.

I was also told that there were major cut backs at the time, and if I wanted the schooling I was promised I would have to re-enlist for 2 years longer, when they discharged me they told me, and I quote “We are not saying that you are crazy, but we feel that you are unfit for military life” So instead of treating me for any of my problems, they basically removed me from being their problem and deprived me from any benefits. After that for about 6 solid years I developed a major drinking and drug problem, which I find out through research basically means that I was self medicating myself. Since then I have went into a In Patient program for drugs and alcohol for 1 and a half years and will have been sober for 21 years this October 2012.

I still have severe anxiety and severe depression. I feel that the U.S. Coast Guard should have treated me instead of discharging me, giving me only the benefit of life insurance that I have paid for since I was discharged. My DD 214 states: Type of Separation:DISCHARGED, Character of Service: HONORABLE, my Reenlistment code: RE-4 Not recommended for reenlistment, Narrative Reason for Separation: UNSUITABILITY, Separation Authority: Article 12-B-16. (Unsuitability) as per the COMDTINST M1000.6A (COAST GUARD PERSONNEL MANUAL) Separation Code: JMB (unsuitability-personality disorder).

So not only did they not try and treat my problem to get me better to try and help me, they expedited my discharge date so I would lose all of my benefits, they also put things on my DD 214 that has made it very difficult or impossible to get any Federal Jobs and even a lot of other jobs not having to do with the military.

The bottom line is, I feel like I was totally discarded, deprived of any benefits, untreated for medical or mental problems, have had it made difficult to find work, not to mention that I was never refunded the money that I put into the GI Bill, which I was told, I would receive back. So taking all of that into consideration, is there anything you can do to help me as I feel that I was totally stripped of many things and I deserve better, is there anything I can do, or anything you can help me do, to try and regain my benefits or anything that I may be entitled to due to this situation? I appreciate your time and look forward to your reply, this is a matter that has haunted me for years and I finally felt that I should see if anyone could help me. Sincerely, M.A. Coker

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