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Colorado VA Used Forbidden Lists of Patients Wanting Mental Health Car

Denver VA

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veterans Administration (VA) investigation has revealed that VA facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs failed to follow proper protocol when keeping tabs on patients who sought referrals for treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “off-book” lists did not always contain complete information or request dates, calling into question whether veterans requesting care received it and how long they had to wait for it.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Whistleblower Brian Smothers said the problems found in Colorado reach across the VA system. He worked on the VA’s PTSD support team in Denver and said he resigned in November 2016 after he was retaliated against for speaking up.

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental healthcare, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available.

“It was totally unacceptable to me,” he said.

Smothers estimated the lists contained 3,500 entries but did not know how many individual veterans were on them because some names appeared multiple times. It was not immediately clear how long veterans on the lists had to wait for care.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

According to Smothers, “VA management knew that these wait lists were absolutely forbidden.”  “But they directed the use of these wait lists anyway.”

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VA To Provide Mental Health Care To Veterans with Less Than Honorable Discharges

VA

By Debbie Gregory.

More than a half-million Veterans with other-than-honorable discharges will begin receiving mental health care services through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We are going to go and start providing mental health care to those with other-than-honorable discharges,” VA Secretary David Shulkin testified to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “I don’t want to wait. We want to start doing that.”

Shulkin said he had the authority to start providing the care without legislation and credited Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo for “changing my whole view of this.”

Coffman has reintroduced the Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Health Care Act, which would allow the VA to provide initial mental health assessments and urgent mental health services to veterans at risk of suicide or harming others, regardless of an other-than-honorable discharge.

In addition to providing care to veterans with bad paper, the VA secretary also announced his plan to hire approximately 1,000 more mental health care providers..

After the hearing, Shulkin said he’s working to notify medical centers about providing mental health care services to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, and that he’d like to implement a program sometime in the next few months.

“So many veterans we see are disconnected from our system, and that’s the frustration,” he said. “We want to do as much as we can.”

Shulkin is also working with educators, researchers and other health care systems to determine other actions the VA can take. He said he will go to Congress soon with more proposals.

VA officials said they expect to finalize plans for rolling out the program in early summer. Shulkin intends to consult with members of Congress, veterans service organizations and the Pentagon on the best way forward.

Discharges that are other-than-honorable, including a “general” discharge, are known as “bad paper” and can prevent veterans from receiving federal benefits, such as health care, disability payments, education and housing assistance.

Note from Debbie Gregory and MilitaryConnection.com

Please pass the word to those you know who need help and can now obtain these important mental health benefits.   Please tell us what you think and share any comments regarding this important issue.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.