Congressman Russ Carnahan (MO-3), a member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, spoke today about the importance of effective mental healthcare for returning veterans.
52 percent of Veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom access Veteran's Administration (VA) health care because of a mental disorder, the second most frequent reason cited, following musculoskeletal problems.
"The recently released VA Inspector General report on veterans' mental health care found that the VA was understating the length of time they took to provide veterans with new and follow up mental health appointments," said Carnahan, in a statement prepared for delivery during Tuesday's subcommittee hearing. "Only 49 percent of vets seeking mental health care received a full mental health evaluation within 14 days. Veterans who did not receive evaluations within that time waited an average of 50 days. Waiting this long has meant the difference between life and death in some veterans."
Carnahan also noted his satisfaction with the new St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center which has built a new facility to treat post-traumatic stress disorder at Jefferson Barracks. This new out-patient PTSD center has been two years in development.
Veterans currently have up to 5 years from their discharge or release to receive high-priority status in VA health care. Because mental illnesses may not manifest themselves until years later, many times after this 5 year window closes, Rep Carnahan recently introduced the Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act, which would eliminate the five year window and allow veterans who served in combat from all military operations to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifest themselves.
At Tuesday's hearing, Secretary Eric Shinseki echoed Rep. Carnahan's concern, saying, "PTSD and other issues don't follow the usual clock" and indicated that he and the VA were willing to more closely examine the issue.