April 20, 2012, USA TODAY
Amid reports of weeks elapsing before veterans are able to begin mental health treatment, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday an immediate, nearly 10% increase in mental health staffing across the country, adding 1,900 therapists and other workers.
The agency treats 1.3million veterans for mental health problems, including nearly 400,000 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are 10,000 new patients with post-traumatic stress disorder checking in at hospitals every three months, according to VA data.
At VA facilities in the South and the Rocky Mountain region, patients can wait four or five weeks to begin therapy, data show. A USA TODAY analysis last year revealed that at nearly a third of VA hospitals, mental health patients wait longer to begin treatment than the 14-day standard set by the department.
VA spokesman Josh Taylor said the decision to hire more people was partly made to reduce wait time for patients. In addition, the VA has had difficulty filling existing mental health positions. Twenty percent of psychiatrist positions are vacant at hospitals in the Northwest, Deep South and Southern California.
An investigation of mental health care wait times by the VA Inspector General will be released Monday, according to Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
“We have too many veterans waiting too long for care,” he said.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the new hires are a “desperately needed step toward providing timely access to mental health care.”
The $172million funding from the VA’s current budget will be used to hire the additional psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, clerical staff, disability examiners and hotline operators, according to the department.
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Dr. D’Arienzo, Licensed Psychologist and Former Active Duty Navy Psychologist, provides Mental Health Services to Jacksonville, FL Tricare beneficiaries. Please contact D’Arienzo Psychological Group at 904-379-8094 to inquire about our Tricare Mental Health Counseling and Psychotherapy Services.