Adding mental health staff to help care for our returning war veterans is a positive step, but the Department of Veterans Affairs must continue to increase outreach efforts, follow-ups and monitoring of vets to assure they are getting the care that they need.
Suicide among returning war vets continues to be a major concern, although the agency says that it has made strides by developing programs and increasing the number of centers devoted to helping vets, according to The Associated Press.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also said last week that it planned to hire about 1,600 clinicians and 300 more support staff, according to the AP.
"As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care," Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a prepared statement.
Timely, comprehensive care for veterans has been an ongoing problem for the VA. The AP story cited a VA survey from last fall that noted "nearly 40 percent of the 272 mental health providers surveyed said they could not schedule a new patient for appointment within the VA-mandated two weeks, and 70 percent said they lacked adequate space and staff."
Those statistics illustrate an unacceptable low in how we provide for our veterans' needs once they have completed their service to their country.
To be effective, veteran care must be readily available, easily accessible and must provide veterans with the tools and resources they need to help them in their time of need. Waiting weeks for an appointment is unacceptable. Not having facilities or staff readily available is unacceptable. Making veterans wade through a complex sea of red tape just to get some basic help is unacceptable.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has made positive strides in addressing a variety of shortfalls in recent years, and the agency's job will continue to grow as more vets return and seek assistance. Hiring additional staff is a good step. But assuring that every returning veteran has readily available assistance is the ultimate goal, and it is a goal that to date has eluded the agency.