Court rules for the VA to improve its mental health services

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us-deptofveteransaffairs-sealReuters recently released an article reporting that the federal appeals court is accusing Congress and the president of neglect and "unchecked incompetence" in delivering mental health care services to veterans. The numbers are staggering – 84,000 veterans are on the waiting list for mental health care services and 18 veterans are committing suicide a day (as reported in the article).

By now, you may have had a chance to read about one of our staff's conversation with a veteran who called us last week, Michael. He called again to thank Connie (Families for Depression Awareness Director of Development) for the generous number of materials we sent him so he can share it with his fellow veterans at a meeting on Thursday.

And again, he expressed his indignation. He recalls that when he first moved to where he currently lives, the Veteran's Affairs (VA) Center that is closest to him (still 54 miles away) had such limited services and an overwhelming client list that he could only make three 30 minute appointments to see a psychiatrist throughout the whole year – one in January, one in July and one in November.

"And that was just me," he exclaimed. "I don't know how many others even had the opportunity to meet with the psychiatrist once throughout the year." Michael struggles even more making appointments to see "civilian" health providers because of the amount of time and paperwork it takes to get that approved through the VA. "I had to write to my Senator and wait three months just to get something as simple as an eye-exam and I have to resubmit paperwork and make phone calls when they gave me prescription glasses," he said.

In the middle of 2009, Mike explained that the VA Center finally hired a large number of staff members and doctors so that now he has an appointment to see the psychiatrist once a month. It's still a trek for him to get there and it's like a three-day process. "I have to prepare myself the day before I go (pack my lunch and get everything ready). On the day of, I get transportation to go there and back so it's a full day affair and I'm exhausted when I get home. And I rest the day after."

Hopefully, the new overhaul in the VA mental health services that the 9th Circuit panel is mandating (as referenced in the article) will provide some relief and additional services for Michael and the countless other veterans affected in the years to come.

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