Support the Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act!

Veterans face significant mental health challenges. Each year, approximately 6,000 veterans complete suicide. Several studies place the rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan at approximately 40%. Veterans widely experience anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders.

Most veterans do not receive adequate treatment for mental illnesses in a timely fashion. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) lacks “a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health services.” Nationwide, OIG finds that the VHA provides only 49% of first-time patients with a full mental health evaluation within the VHA-required 14 days. The average wait time for the remaining 51% of first-time patients is reported as 50 days. Furthermore, OIG finds that only 64% of new patient appointments for treatment (i.e. treatment determined by the initial evaluation) were completed within the VHA-required 14 days of the patient’s desired date.

Staff vacancies may contribute to the VHA’s inability to deliver mental health services in a timely fashion. OIG specifically mentions that the VHA’s “greatest challenge has been to hire and retain psychiatrists.” Current policy makes it difficult for the VHA to compete with other Federal agencies (e.g., the DoD) and private entities in recruiting psychiatrists, which are far more generous in what they offer new hires. Of 128 permanent VHA positions that were advertised in September, 2013, only 33 (25%) were eligible for medical education loan repayment. This is due to current Federal policy, which allows the VHA a great degree of flexibility in offering incentives, such as loan forgiveness.

 KPMA believes that the demonstrated shortage and turnover of psychiatrists is a contributing factor to the inability of the VHA to deliver mental health services in a timely fashion. The APA strongly supports the bipartisan and bicameral Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act (H.R. 4234/S. 2425), which offers a path forward in securing a more stable and robust psychiatric workforce in the VHA. The Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act seeks to mitigate the chronic shortage of psychiatrists in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) by implementing a pilot program in which a limited number of psychiatrists are recruited into long-term employment at the VHA with competitive medical education loan forgiveness incentives. It further asks the GAO to study pay disparities between psychiatrists within the VHA.