By Debbie Gregory.
Veterans in the greater El Paso, Texas area are still facing challenges when it comes to receiving mental health appointments in a timely manner. This is happening, despite the national focus to improve VA patient care nationally.
Twice monthly, the US Department of Veterans Affairs issues updated statistics on pending appointments in all 141 VA areas and the affiliated clinics. In the most recent report, four facilities in El Paso revealed they average nearly a 17-day wait period – the worst statistic in the state.
The El Paso Health Care System, while improved from its 64-day waits in the last two years, tops the facility backlog to an average 21-day wait for an appointment.
The El Paso VA covers Southern New Mexico and West Texas. It includes the Las Cruces clinic, El Paso Eastside Community Based Outpatient Clinic, Integrated Disability Evaluation System Fort Bliss, and the region’s busiest location, the El Paso Health Care System.
Staff shortages appear to be a significant factor in this inability to manage the volume of patients. The VA standard is 7.2 staff to every 1,000 veterans. El Paso is well below that at 5.5 per 1,000. The most needed positions are nurse practitioners and psychiatrists. Hiring incentives and recruitment efforts are being offered, but recruitment does take time.
Amid the recruitment efforts for clinicians, the El Paso VA Health Care System is seeking a permanent director as well.
Brian Olden, El Paso VA chief of mental health, assures the concerned community that veterans in crisis will be attended to immediately.
“When a veteran shows up at this facility and they’re in a crisis and they need to be seen right away because they’re in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, they will be seen,” he said. “No veteran who shows up and needs immediate care will be turned away.”
While clinicians are being sought and hired, the immediate effort to assist veterans is offered through the VA Choice program. This provision allows veterans to see health care providers outside the VA system if the VA clinic cannot meet their appointment request in 30 days, or for those who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Veterans can then return to their VA facility of choice when appointments are available.
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Long Wait for Mental Health Appointments: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory