Mental health care assessed at all VA hospitals
The Department of Veterans Affairs is auditing its 152 medical centers to see whether they meet the mental health care needs of veterans, VA Undersecretary of Health Dr. Robert Petzel said Monday.
VA headquarters officials are conducting site visits to all their hospitals, reviewing staffing levels, job vacancy rates and productivity levels, Petzel said.
“Providing good access — not adequate, [but] good, excellent access — is our No. 1 priority,” Petzel said at the 2012 American Legion National Conference.
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VA officials said more than 500,000 of their 6.2 million patients have diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder; 100,000 of those are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
In 2009, VA treated 1.2 million patients for mental health issues, a Government Accountability Office report found.
VA’s 2013 budget proposal includes $6.2 billion for mental health, which the department plans to use for increased outreach and screenings, new technology for self-assessment and symptom management, and reducing the stigma of seeking mental health care.
During the conference, a Kentucky Legionnaire told Petzel that the mental health department at the Lexington, Ky., VA Medical Center had 20 practitioner vacancies and veterans are having problems scheduling appointments.
“They are talking about discharging all the old PTSD patients out of the mental health clinics … and they’re having trouble getting appointments,” the Legion member said. “They may not get one for 90 days.”
Petzel would not comment specifically on Lexington but said VA expects to report its findings on the overall state of mental health care within the system to Congress in April.
He added that VA is making headway in changing its overall approach to health care from a treatment model centered on individual illnesses to a total health approach, focusing on preventive medicine and patient education. The aim is to decrease illnesses by increasing a patient’s overall health.
“We’re good, but we aren’t as good as we could be. We’re not where we want to be,” Petzel said.
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