I applaud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) decision last week to increase its mental health staffing in facilities by nearly 10 percent across the board, adding up to 1,600 new clinicians — psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and more. (My sources within the VA indicate most of these positions will be LPC and Master’s level clinicians — not psychologists or psychiatrists.)
It’s a good step forward as the military struggles with the hundreds of thousands of returning vets who have increasing mental health needs. Most of the new hires — about 1,400 — will be clinicians that work directly with vet patients.
But let’s also put this into some perspective, too. According to its website, the VA operates 172 hospitals across the United States, and 837 outpatient clinics. That’s 1,009 places where a vet can go to get help. That means that, on average, each clinic or hospital will get 1.4 new clinicians.
One and a half new clinicians per facility? Not nearly as impressive.
It’s not like the VA has been sitting on its hands over the past few years. It has tried to meet the rising mental health demand of returning soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but it simply hasn’t really kept pace:
The veterans department says that it has worked hard to keep pace with the tide of new veterans needing psychological care, increasing its mental health care budget by 39 percent since 2009 and hiring more than 3,500 mental health professionals.
The department says it has also established a policy to do mental health evaluations of all veterans not in crisis within 14 days, a goal it says it meets 95 percent of the time.
However, the inspector general’s report is expected to question the validity of that claim.
That inspector general’s report is going to claim the VA is basically fudging the numbers, to show that it meets its “on time” goal 95 percent of the time. The reality is that it’s nowhere close to that number in a significant number of high-traffic, high profile facilities.
Is a 39 percent increase sufficient? It ultimately depends upon what the utilization rates are for mental health services by returning soldiers. I couldn’t find any data that sheds light on this number, so all we can do is look at other factors demonstrating that supply is not keeping up with demand. Things like wait times to obtain service — something the inspector general’s report will help with.
That report could be published as soon as next week. We’ll keep you updated.
Read the full article: Veterans Affairs Dept. to Increase Mental Health Staffing