Deception Appears Part of VA’s Latest Answer to Tsunami of Incoming Mental Health Cases

REPORT: VA Overstates How Fast it Provides Mental Health Care to Veterans

by Steve Vogel
Washington Post, April 23, 2012

The Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly overstated how quickly it provides mental health care for veterans, according to an inspector general’s report released Monday.

Contrary to the VA’s claim that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental health care in 2011 received an evaluation within the department’s goal of 14 days, just under half were actually seen in that time frame, the report found. The majority waited about 50 days on average for a full evaluation.

“Getting our veterans timely mental health care can quite frankly often be the difference between life and death,” said Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affair Committee, Sen. Patty Murray. The VA claimed in its 2011 Performance and Accountability Report that 95 percent of incoming veterans seeking mental health treatment were seen in 14 days or less. An IG review found less than 50 percent met that goal; most must wait more than two months for treatment.

A similar claim that 95 percent of new patients in 2011 got appointments to begin treatment within 14 days of their desired date was also far off the mark; the report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General estimated that only 64 percent of patients did, while the rest waited on average 40 days.

The inflated claims, made in the VA’s fiscal year 2011 performance and accountability report, come with the department facing growing demand for mental health services, as thousands of veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sen. Patty Murray, (D-Wash.), who is chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Veterans Affairs and requested the investigation, said the report 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.”

Delays in treatment for veterans seeking help for post-traumatic stress can be devastating, Murray said. “Getting our veterans timely mental health care can quite frankly often be the difference between life and death,” she said.

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