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.