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Posted By Southern Utah Vets Aid

Ten years of war have taken a profound toll on the mental health of American fighting forces. Wounded Warrior Project™ (WWP) urges Veteran Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki to act boldly and quickly to institute major changes to improve the responsiveness and effectiveness of VA mental health care services in light of its recent survey of VA mental health professionals.

The survey’s alarming findings, confirming the urgent need for fundamental VA reforms, should be a stark call-to-action. Instead, the Veterans Health Administration’s September 9 survey analysis proposes only timid half steps in the name of “action plans,” while quibbling over the limitations of the survey’s methodology. Regardless of the ultimate validity of any one survey, our experiences in working with wounded warriors not only support the study’s findings but overwhelmingly support the fact that access to appropriate mental health care is a real and dire issue that warrants immediate, aggressive action.

The Department’s frequent failure to meet these timeliness standards is unacceptable, and it is not the VA’s only gap in meeting warriors’ mental health needs. Currently, only half of all returning Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) / Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) veterans are seeking medical care from the VA. According to the VA’s own research, fewer than 10 percent of the nearly 50,000 OIF/OEF veterans with new PTSD diagnoses appeared to have received recommended mental health treatment at a VA facility (i.e., clinically defined in this report as attending nine or more mental health treatment sessions in 15 weeks). Twenty percent of those veterans did not have a single mental health follow-up visit in the first year after diagnosis.

VA is failing too many returning warriors: failing to reach warriors who need mental health services, failing to provide needed mental health treatment in a timely manner, and failing to sustain warriors in treatment. Too often, these failures are linked to the tragic epidemic of suicide among this generation of warriors.

An “action plan” limited to such measures as “exploring possible barriers,” “reviewing,” “working with other offices,” “engaging leadership and staff,” and “developing policies” is a formula for more of the same. With veteran suicides at still alarming levels, VA’s emphasis on studying and discussing the issues reflects a plodding bureaucracy that is out of touch with the very real crisis facing so many of our service members.

Wounded Warrior Project’s own previous calls to action to improve VA mental health care for returning warriors have, to date, fallen on deaf ears at the Department of Veterans Affairs. In a letter sent today to Secretary Shinseki, WWP proposed the following three immediate solutions to some of these dire issues: better utilize the hundreds of vet centers nationwide and allocate more resources to those centers, integrate peer-to-peer support to help sustain veterans in treatment, and pay for private care options if VA resources are so limited and taxed that a warrior in need cannot be seen within a reasonable time frame.

Lives are on the line; the time for review and exploration is long past! WWP calls on Secretary Shinseki to lead, and lead boldly.

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