Veterans Struggle to Access Mental Health Care

21 Nov 2011

It hasn't been a secret to California veterans’ benefits lawyers that veterans with mental health problems who need access to professional care, have to wait far too long for such services. A new analysis by USA Today shows just how serious the problem is. The analysis shows that veterans who seek mental health care services at approximately 1/3rd of hospitals run by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs must wait longer than the 14 days goal set by the Veterans Administration.

According to a survey by the Government Accountability Office, the number of veterans returning from combat and requiring mental health care services has increased from nearly 900,000 in 2006, to 1.2 million in 2010. The number of veterans in therapy has increased from 35,000 in 2006 to 139,000 last year. While Veterans Affairs has increased its mental-health care staffing during this period of time, the increase hasn’t been nearly enough to deal with the spike in veterans who need psychological help or counseling.

Veterans Affairs continues to insist that barely 5% of patients are forced to wait too long for consultations and counseling sessions with psychiatrists and psychologists. However, the USA Today study indicates that that is probably not true. In fact, doctors have been voicing their concerns about the lack of resources at Veterans Affairs hospitals to deal with the psychological problems facing veterans returning from combat. These hospitals do not have the staffing necessary to deal with the large number of veterans with mental health issues. On an average, it takes a veteran between three and six weeks to begin mental-health treatment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs also struggles with inadequate monitoring of veterans with mental health issues. The agency currently functions with a 25-year-old scheduling system that is outdated, and unable to cope with the increased demand for services.