Rep. looks outside VA to fill mental care gap
By Kevin Freking
The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Jan 29, 2013
WASHINGTON — Veterans who have trouble getting timely mental health care from Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics should also have access to thousands of health care providers who care for military personnel and their families, says the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The proposal by Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., borrows from the playbook of Republican Mitt Romney, who raised the idea of tapping into the military’s Tricare network of doctors during the course of the presidential campaign.
“We can double overnight the number of providers for those who are in need,” Miller said in an interview. “Eighteen veterans a day commit suicide in this country. Nobody thinks that is acceptable.”
The VA has beefed up its mental health staff over the years to try to keep up with the needs of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but a critical inspector general’s report last year found that about half of those seeking care for the first time waited about 50 days before getting a full evaluation. The VA had been reporting that the vast majority of those patients were getting care within 14 days.
Shortly before that report was released, the VA announced it would be adding 1,900 mental health professionals to its staff. VA officials said the department has made good progress on the hires, but they couldn’t provide specific numbers yet.
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