From July to mid-September, across the country VA medical centers will host 152 “mental health summits”. This is part of the VA’s effort to try to improve coordination between community behavioral health providers and the VA. It is intended to expand a pilot program in which veterans in nine states were eligible to receive mental health care from community providers. The program design is based on the fee based care system some veterans use to receive specialized care from community providers.
It is also a symptom of the need for mental health care that has been historically chronically under-funded. That is apparently changing In the past year, the VA has increased its already enhanced efforts to hire at least 1,600 additional mental health professionals. The VA filled 2,036 mental health care vacancies last year and doubled the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line.
These efforts are is in response to the VA Inspector General Report last year which showed veterans wait far too long to receive mental health treatment. In the most tragic cases, the long waits may have contributed to suicides. Representative Jeff Miller, house Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, is skeptical and is reserving his judgment on the success of these programs until measureable success is achieved. Miller said, “meeting hiring benchmarks and holding summits should not be held up as progress unless they lead to measurable improvements in the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of VA mental health care.”