Critics say VA’s progress on mental health too slow

March 6, 2012
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Critics say VA’s progress on mental health too slow

Last year, leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held two hearings that lambasted the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on how long veterans had to wait to receive mental healthcare. The hearings took place on the heels of a bill passed by Congress that imposed several requirements to improve overall healthcare for veterans.

Now, some lawmakers and other advocates are stepping up their criticism of the VA for “not expanding help for soldiers and their families as quickly or widely as intended,” according to a story this weekend by Kevin Freking, a reporter for the Associated Press.

“It's time for the VA to move forward and implement these provisions," said Sen. Jon Tester from Montana, who led the effort to get the programs passed into law after its original authors had left the Senate.

Freking says the backlash stems from the VA’s perceived failure in two key areas. Proponents of the legislation expected the VA to establish a peer support network consisting of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at each of its 152 hospitals, as well as offer family members temporary access to “the full range of mental health services available at the VA's hospitals and its nearly 800 outpatient clinics.”

In response to the mandates, officials from the VA have pointed to the approximately 300 centers that already offer peer support and family counseling, claiming that these existing services meet all of the requirements set forth in the bill. The response falls far short of expectations, so leaders of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs are continuing to press the organization on how (and when) sufficient improvements will be implemented.

"I don't think they're stalling," said Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle from New York, the Republican chairwoman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs' health subcommittee. “I think they're failing to communicate, failing to coordinate and failing to understand that there was a significant attempt to give our veterans and their families what they [need].”

While the VA seems to feel that adequate services are already in place, there are certainly many who disagree. Is the VA as resistant to change as the media is suggesting, or are there other factors at play? Could it simply be the lack of staffing and capacity needed to support these initiatives?

In any case, it does seem as though there's a "failure to communicate" on all fronts. Hopefully these issues are addressed soon and our veterans don't have to be the ones paying the price for much longer. Let us know what you think.

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