LANHAM, Md., April 23, 2012—AMVETS National Commander Gary L. Fry expressed his support today for the decision to increase mental health staffing at the Department of Veterans Affairs by 1,600 professionals. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced on Thursday, April 19, the addition of 1,600 mental health workers, including psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers and professional counselors, as well as 300 support staff, increasing the mental health staff by nearly 10 percent. Hoping to reduce wait times and serve an increasing number of returning war veterans, this increase in professionals will supplement the existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff. “As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans” Shinseki said in a statement.
AMVETS recognizes that the VA faces significant challenges ensuring that newly returning war veterans have access to post-deployment readjustment services and specialized treatments while guaranteeing that all other enrolled veterans gain and keep access to effective, timely, high-quality mental health services. This new hire initiative follows a VA review that determined shortages in the mental health staff resulted in longer wait times for veterans to receive treatment. Beginning immediately, VA hopes the new personnel will help to meet the needs of an increasing number of veterans who are seeking mental health care.
“I applaud Secretary Shinseki’s action to address the critical issue of veterans’ mental health care by adding the skilled and trained professionals we need in this area,” said Fry. “AMVETS will continue to work with our partners at VA, in Congress, and the Obama Administration, to ensure VA has the resources necessary to meet the needs of our American veterans.”
Since 2007, VA has experienced a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans who receive mental health services. Untreated and unhealed physical and mental health combat injuries play a significant role in the number of military and veteran suicides. VA reports that 18 veterans take their own lives each day, totaling 6,750 veterans’ suicides per year. In a Fall 2011 survey, 40 percent of the surveyed mental health providers gave a wait-time of 14 days for appointments. Resulting from staff deficiencies, this wait-time proves critical as veterans face life-threatening issues and are left without available professionals to provide support and treatment.
Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee U.S. Senator Patty Murray will hold a hearing on Wednesday, April 25 to discuss the deficiencies in veterans’ mental health care and to hear the Inspector General’s findings on the subject. “Too often we have seen staff vacancies, scheduling delays, and red tape leave those veterans who have been brave enough to seek help in the first place left with nowhere to turn,” states Murray in a statement. The VA has taken the first steps in solving the problems involved in veterans’ mental health care and AMVETS actively supports these initiatives in aiding our nation’s veterans.
A leader since 1944 in preserving the freedoms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS provides support for veterans and the active military in procuring their earned entitlements, as well as community service and legislative reform that enhances the quality of life for this nation’s citizens and veterans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered veterans’ service organizations in the United States, and includes members from each branch of the military, including the National Guard and Reserves. To learn more visit www.amvets.org.