In the first of a series of reports called “The Last Battle”, the Fayetteville (NC) Observer (9/23, Barnes) noted, “The rising suicide rate and the increasing number of service members and veterans dealing with post-combat stress or substance abuse show that the military’s mental health programs are not getting the job done.” Veterans Affairs, meanwhile, has a claims backlog that in part stems from the many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are filing for VA benefits. In order to help decrease the backlog, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “met in May to reaffirm their commitment to a fully operational health records system that would allow the VA and DOD to share medical records of soldiers and veterans electronically.” Some lawmakers, however, feel that project is not coming along quickly enough.
In a related story, the Fayetteville (NC) Observer (9/24, Ramsey) says VA “has promised to eliminate its entire backlog — more than 820,000 claims nationwide — by 2015.” The agency “has hired more than 3,000 claims processors and bought a $300 million computer system. But the wait times in North Carolina — and in the other areas across the country that process the most claims — are getting worse.” Patrick Bellon, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, thinks VA should change its claims system so that follows the IRS model, in that VA would grant claims and then do audits of the claims granted. As it is now, says Bellon, vets are waiting for money from VA and “while they’re waiting for the money, their financial situations are deteriorating.”
Panetta Says VA And DoD Are Devoting More Funding To PTSD Research. As part of its “The Last Battle” series of reports, theFayetteville (NC) Observer (9/23) interviewed Panetta, who said, “We just had another $100 million in joint funding by DoD and VA to try to develop some consortia to look at diagnosis and treatment” of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in service members and veterans. Panetta added, “We’ve really been pushing on trying to open up access to quality mental and behavioral health care, trying to expand access, so we’ve got some 9,000 new psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers and nurses.” The Observer, however, took note of VA’s “huge” claims backlog. In response, Panetta said preventing suicides by service members and veterans requires a “fundamental and deep commitment on the part of everybody to address this issue.”
VA Mental Healthcare System Urged To Partner With Private Sector. In a Wall Street Journal (9/24, Subscription Publication) op-ed, attorney Robert M. Morgenthau criticizes the care that 63-year-old Vietnam veteran Peter Wielunski got from Veterans Affairs before committing suicide in May. Morgenthau praises VA for trying to improve its mental healthcare system by increasing the system’s budget and by hiring more mental healthcare employees. He argues, however, that VA can only properly care for suicidal veterans by partnering with private-sector hospitals and universities.
— “The Last Battle: Is the Army doing enough to help soldiers suffering from mental health problems?, “Greg Barnes, Fayobserver, September 23, 2012.