REPORT SAYS VA’S MENTAL HEALTH FUNDS SPENDING SLOW
The Department of Veterans Affairs did not spend all of the extra $300 million it budgeted for veterans’ mental health care and did not keep track of how some funds have been used, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday. The report stated spending of the budgeted funds was too slow to effectively treat the mental health needs of veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The VA launched a plan in 2004 to improve mental health services for veterans, with the $300 million budgeted to fill gaps in early assistance services for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who have combat stress, mental health treatment programs for female veterans and programs for veterans with serious mental illnesses. Funds were to be distributed to the VA’s regional networks of hospitals, clinics and medical centers for new services.
“Without the commitment to fully fund the mental health care proposals…improvements in VA’s mental health services will not be achieved,” Rep. Mike Michaud, ranking Democrat for a Veterans Health subcommittee, wrote in a letter last week to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. Michaud cited statistics showing that the VA saw almost 18,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during fiscal 2006.
VA reported in September that over a third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought medical services from the VA in the 18 months prior reported symptoms of stress or other mental disorders. Roadside bombings, daily attacks, and longer and multiple deployments are cited as reasons for the increased reports. Democrats have stated they want to increase veterans’ health care funding, in particular its mental health services for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans when they take over Congress next year.
The VA provides health care to over 5 million patients. It treats homeless veterans, veterans with serious mental illnesses and combat veterans for conditions such as PTSD. Acupuncture & Massage College is offering acupuncture to veterans as part of a PTSD study. For more information contact Dr. Richard Browne at (305) 595-9500.