Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that it would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians, including nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff. Congressman Mike Michaud, Ranking Member of the Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health, applauded the move and wrote to the director of the VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1) urging him to ensure Maine receives the staff they need to meet demand.
"In recent years, lack of access to mental health services has had a very real and detrimental impact on the veterans of Maine," wrote Michaud. "I have heard directly from veterans who must wait months in order to schedule basic mental health sessions. Too often, mental health care providers are overwhelmed by their high caseload and despite their best efforts, cannot give the individualized attention the patients deserve."
Funding for the new staff will be allocated to all of VA's Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) this month to begin recruitment immediately.
The full text of the letter Michaud sent today can be found below.
April 19, 2012
Dr. Michael F. Mayo-Smith, M.D., M.P.H.
VA New England Healthcare System (VISN 1)
200 Springs Road, Building #61
Bedford, MA 01730
Dear Dr. Mayo-Smith:
I was pleased to hear of the VA's recent commitment to increase mental health staff by 1,900 nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and support staff. I know how hard the mental health care staffers in VISN 1 work, and it reflects the VA's commitment to the well-being of our veterans that additional clinicians and staffers will be added to help meet the growing demand for these services. As you begin to recruit these new employees, I urge you to ensure that the unique and growing demand for mental health services among Maine's veteran population is met.
Maine has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the nation per capita, and as service members return from war the demand for treatment will only grow. As we all know, the signature need for these new veterans is treatment for substance abuse, trauma related mental health conditions and traumatic brain injury. The VA Maine Healthcare System desperately needs additional resources to provide timely and quality care for these veterans.
In recent years, lack of access to mental health services has had a very real and detrimental impact on the veterans of Maine. I have heard directly from veterans who must wait months in order to schedule basic mental health sessions. Too often, mental health care providers are overwhelmed by their high caseload and despite their best efforts, cannot give the individualized attention the patients deserve.
Despite a number of recent veteran suicides and violent deaths in Maine, the VA Maine Healthcare System has still not received the funding and support it needs to address these problems. I know that the entire VA Maine Healthcare System, including the community clinics, is eager to provide more of this care, and I urge you to support them in their efforts.
I appreciate your attention to this matter, and please do not hesitate to contact me as we continue to work together to give our veterans access to the best possible care.
Michael H. Michaud
Member of Congress