Poor VA Mental Healthcare Follow-up

By Military Connection.

A large percentage of veterans thought to be “at risk” for suicide are not receiving consistent follow up from mental health clinicians at the Veterans Affairs medical centers.

The brave men and women who serve in our country’s military are entitled to top-notch mental health care, and the Veteran Administration has been lax in following up with them after they have been discharged from VA mental health care.

One example was revealed during an audit of the Fayetteville VA. The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General found the Fayetteville VA noncompliant in two areas dealing with mental health: first, mental health workers failed to properly follow up with patients in accordance with VHA policy and second, they did not document attempts to contact patients who failed to appear for scheduled appointments. According to the report, the VA is required to check on high-risk patients weekly for the first month following their release.

Members of Congress and veterans are getting tired of excuses. How many veterans die while waiting for the VA to do their job, diagnosing and treating the mental health of the men and women who have served so valiantly? The VA doesn’t seem to be able to shrink the backlog of disability compensation claims for veterans. A new study blames the Department of Defense and the VA for this failure to help veterans.

The Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Robert A. Petzel, oversees the health care needs of millions of veterans who are enrolled in the Veterans Health Administration. In spite of the fact the VA health system is the largest integrated health care system, Petzel agrees with the findings of the Inspector General’s Combined Assessment Program Summary. He said that his department would issue a memo “charging facilities with creating a local patient registry for follow-up on all patients discharged from inpatient mental health units”. He will also reiterate that all medical facilities need to contact veterans who miss appointments, and all patient contacts must be reported.

It is a national tragedy that more soldiers took their own lives than died in combat during 2012. According to DOD statistics, soldier suicide continues to rise.

We remain hopeful that the VA’s efforts will shore up the holes that our vulnerable veterans are falling into, and that they will receive the mental health services they need.