VA Plans to Hire 1,900 Additional Mental Health Staffers
Agency faces toughest HR challenge at rural facilities where unfilled positions exceed 20 percent
by Leo Shane lll
Stars and Stripes, April 19, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to hire 1,900 new mental health staffers to deal with gaps in existing psychiatric care and to prepare the agency for next wave of veterans returning home from war.
Veterans groups hailed the news as a much-needed move to cut down on wait times for mental health care. But they also questioned whether filling the positions can be done, given the nationwide shortage of those specialists and the high vacancy rates which already exist throughout the department.
Last year, department specialists provided mental health services to 1.3 million veterans. Since 2007, the VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of patients receiving mental health care.
It currently employs nearly 20,600 mental health staffers. The 1,900 new positions will include 1,600 clinicians — nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers — and another 300 support staff.
In a statement, VA secretary Eric Shinseki said that the move is designed to anticipate the needs of returning veterans.
“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,” he said. “As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care.”
Next week, in response to congressional requests, the VA inspector general’s office is expected to release findings detailing longer-than-promised wait times for that mental health care.
In addition, a USA Today report earlier this month found that many psychiatrist posts within the department’s hospitals are currently unfilled, with vacancy rates above 20 percent in many rural areas.
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Filed under: Resources Tagged: | Afghanistan, Army, Combat, Deployment, Infantry, Marine Corps, Mental Health, Military, Military Suicide, PTSD, Suicide prevention, VA secretary Eric Shinseki, Veterans Affairs