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Do veterans have timely access to mental health care?

Posted Nov 05 2013 1:43pm

A front page USA Today article declares Many veterans face frustrating delays for mental health care , and reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs “failed to meet its 14-day goal in 34% of new mental health appointments.” I agree that it’s a problem if veterans aren’t being accommodated in a timely fashion and am happy that statistics like this are being publicly reported because they increase accountability in the system.

But access to mental health services is a challenge in this country in general. Try to book an appointment as a new patient with a mental health professional and see how long it takes you. Which brings up my main point: government-run systems like the VA actually measure and report things like waiting times, while systematic statistics on access to care are unavailable for the general population. Tell me who’s responsible for making sure non-CA patients can get an appointment in any specialty within a specific time frame.

Interestingly, there is more accountability for access in socialist systems such as the UK’s National Health Service. On the UK government site you can download a spreadsheet of monthly statistics by specialty and region. Take a look here  for the most recent data.

I don’t support a government run health care delivery system for the general population, but before we start blaming the VA for offering poor access or make a blanket statement about rationing and wait times overseas, it would be good to confront the facts and see what we can learn. I, for one, would like to see systematic statistics on access for commercial, Medicare and Medicaid patients. And we might as well compare these stats to the VA’s while we’re at it.

As a started I’d be willing to bet we can find plenty of places where access to services is slower than in the VA system.

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