April 27, 2012

VA increases mental health care workforce

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will add approximately 1,600 clinicians – to include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers – as well as nearly 300 support staff, to its existing mental health workforce of 20,590, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced April 19.

The staff increase is part of an ongoing review of the VA’s mental health care operations, Shinseki said.

“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans,” he said. “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. As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care.”

VA’s ongoing comprehensive review of mental health operations has indicated that some VA facilities require more mental health staff to serve the growing needs of veterans, officials said. . It projected the need for the 1,900 additional mental health staff largely because of increasing needs for the Veterans Crisis Line, as well as an expected increase in compensation and pension and integrated disability evaluation exams.

“Mental health services must be closely aligned with veterans’ needs and fully integrated with health care facility operations,” VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel said. “Improving access to mental health services will help support the current and future veterans who depend on VA for these vital services.”

VA will allocate funds this month from the current budget to all 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks across the country to begin recruitment immediately. Under the leadership of President Barack Obama and Secretary Shinseki, officials said, VA has devoted more people, programs, and resources toward mental health services to serve the growing number of veterans seeking mental health care from VA.

Last year, VA provided specialty mental health services to 1.3 million veterans, officials said. Since 2009, VA has increased its mental health care budget by 39 percent and has seen a similar increase in the number of veterans receiving mental health services, as well as a 41-percent increase in mental health staff.

VA has enhanced services through the integration of mental health care into the primary care setting, developing an extensive suicide prevention program, and increasing the number of Veterans Readjustment Counseling Centers. VA’s Veteran Crisis Line has received more than 600,000 calls, resulting in more than 21,000 rescues of veterans in immediate crisis.

“The mental health of America’s veterans not only touches those of us at VA and the Department of Defense, but also families, friends, co-workers, and people in our communities,” Petzel said. “We ask that you urge veterans in your communities to reach out and connect with VA services.”

Veterans in need of immediate help can receive assistance by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

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