Study Finds Delays for VA Mental Health Care, High Suicide Risk

Image: Study Finds Delays for VA Mental Health Care, High Suicide Risk (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Friday, 25 Jul 2014 03:18 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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More than two-thirds of veterans who needed mental health care at a Veterans Administration clinic suffered long delays getting appointments, according to Stars and Stripes, citing a study by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The IAVA survey of young veterans, mainly from the Army or Marine Corps, also revealed that almost 50 percent of veterans know at least one veteran who has tried to kill himself.

The 2,000 veterans who replied to the survey said that suicide and mental health are the biggest issues facing soldiers who took part in the Iraq and Afghan wars after the 9/11 attacks.

The research also revealed that 31 percent of respondents have thought about taking their own lives since joining the military, while 40 percent know at least one one veteran from either war who has committed suicide.

The findings also showed that 53 percent of young vets have a mental health problem, and of those, 27 percent are not going for treatment.

At least two out of every three veterans who did seek mental health at a VA mental health care provider said they had major difficulties scheduling an appointment, in contrast with the just 31 percent of veterans who went to non-VA facilities and found long delays.

"It’s not just about having great care," said Jackie Maffucci, IAVA’s research director. "It’s about having access. You’ve got to get your foot in the door before you can actually get that care."

The study was conducted before it was revealed earlier this year that there were widespread delays in providing healthcare to veterans at dozens of VA clinics, which in some cases led to fatalities.

Maffucci said that the scandal could end up discouraging some veterans from seeking mental health care, and possibly lead to an increase in suicide.

"Certainly, there is a huge concern that a lot of the talk is going to turn [them] off — particularly those individuals whose only option is the VA — to not seeking care," Maffucci said. "Veterans that sought care from the VA were slightly less likely to commit suicide than the rest of the population."

Phil Carter, the director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program at the Center for a New American Security, said he was also concerned about how the current VA crisis may affect veterans who need mental health care.

"If we make the VA a less attractive care option, we sort of do so at our peril," said Cater, who took part in a panel discussion about the survey’s findings.

Maffucci suggested that the national focus on the VA scheduling problems could also cause difficulties in finding mental health care providers willing to work for the VA.

"Right now, particularly, it’s challenging," he said. "VA is not probably a place where people are looking at right now saying, 'Hey, I want to go there. They look like they’ve got their stuff together.'"

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