Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced that the department would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians to improve the mental health services the agency provides veterans.
The hiring program is looking to bring on nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff as part of an ongoing review of mental health operations.
“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more return home, we must ensure that all Veteranshave access to quality mental health care.”
VA’s ongoing review of mental health operations has indicated that some VA facilities require more mental health staff to serve the growing needs of Veterans. Based on the model for team delivery of outpatient mental health services, plus growth needs for the Veterans Crisis Line and anticipated increase in Compensation and Pension/Integrated Disability Evaluation System exams, VA projected the additional need for 1,900 clinical and clerical mental health staff. As these increases are implemented, VA will continue to assess staffing levels.
VA will allocate funds from the current budget to all 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks across the country this month to begin recruitment immediately.
The announcement came just days before the findings of a major VA Inspector General report called for by Senator Murray to look into the long wait times for VA mental health care were announced. VA’s action is welcome news to Murray who has held multiple hearings over the past year on overcoming barriers to VA mental health care. Murray will hold a third hearing on this subject in order to hear the Inspector General’s findings on Wednesday, April 25th.
“This report confirms what we have long been hearing, that our veterans are waiting far too long to get the mental health care they so desperately need. It is deeply disturbing and demands action from the VA. This report shows the huge gulf between the time VA says it takes to get veterans mental health care and the reality of how long it actually takes veterans to get seen at facilities across the country,” Murray said.
Under the leadership of President Obama and Secretary Shinseki, VA claims to have devoted more people, programs, and resources toward mental health services to serve the growing number of Veterans seeking mental health care from VA. Last year, VA provided specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.
Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.
VA has enhanced services by integrating mental health care into the primary care setting, developed an extensive suicide prevention program, and increased the number of Veterans Readjustment Counseling Centers (Vet Centers). VA’s Veteran Crisis Line has received more than 600,000 calls resulting in over 21,000 rescues of Veterans in immediate crisis.
To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, Veterans can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov. Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.