Veterans with mental health issues—including post-traumatic stress syndrome and the effects of traumatic brain injuries that have been so common in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—complain that getting appointments with Veterans Administration mental health staff can take months. Rather unhelpful when suicide is a possibility:
Much of what's outlined in the executive order are initiatives that were previously announced earlier this summer by the VA.Suicides among combat veterans as well as active-duty personnel have been on the rise for a long time and spiked in July to their peak for the Afghanistan-Iraq period. The number of veterans of all wars who commit suicide rose to 18 a day that month. Of the 1.5 million military men and women who have left the service since the decade-long conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq began, 425,000 are seeking treatment for mental disorders. One recent VA report concluded that 245,658 have been examined for potential PTSD.
Obama is instructing the VA to ensure that any veteran with suicidal thoughts is seen by a mental health professional within 24 hours—a standard already set for the VA, but which the department often fails to meet.
The VA announced earlier this summer that it is adding 1,900 mental health clinicians, including psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, to its existing mental health staff. That's nearly a 10 percent staffing increase. The problem is that there is a nationwide shortage of such professionals and the VA has had difficulties in attracting them to work for it. Since 2009, the administration has increased the mental health budget for the VA by 39 percent.
The question in the minds of many veterans is whether this will be enough. When the VA opened its new 80-bed mental health facility in Palo Alto this summer, Shad Meshad, co-founder and president of the National Veterans Foundation, said:
I’m sorry, but this is all smoke and mirrors. There are 2.4 million people who have served in these wars. There’s a tsunami of mental health issues coming and will be with us for decades. It’s great that the people who use these 80 beds have a shot. But as a country we have yet to put our arms around this problem.While many veterans may not be happy with how things have gone regarding mental health care under the Obama administration, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has made it clear that veterans are just another group whose services will be put in the budget-axing hopper. The House Budget Committee, which Ryan chairs, seeks to cut $6 billion a year from the VA budget by eliminating from the rolls 1.3 veterans whose health care is now covered.