- Posted September 3, 2009 by
Washington, District of Columbia
This iReport is part of an assignment:
What if veterans had a stronger voice?
How Many More Veterans Must Die or Suffer?
Below is tidbits of one of my current Congressional testimonies on PTSD and mental healthcare for our veterans. Sadly, 99% of Americans are not aware that on Sept 30 2009 a five year project deadline at Veterans Affairs will be missed. I understand deadlines are often missed, but it is unacceptable that this one will be. How many veterans must dye before America stands up and says "This is not OK!"? Again this is bits and peices so I hope it makes sense.~
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Brown, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, I would like to extend our gratitude for being given the opportunity to discuss and share with you our views and recommendations on “Charting the VA’s Progress on Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Our Veterans: Discussion of Funding, Mental Health Strategic Plan, and the Uniform Mental Health Services Handbook.”
Given the extent of the matters at hand, I have chosen to focus primarily on the “Uniform Mental Health Services in VA Medical Centers and Clinics”(Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Handbook 1160.01, September 2008) and its implementation. VHA Handbook 1160.01 was designed to incorporate the new minimum clinical standards and requirements for all VHA mental health services. It delineates the essential components of the mental health program that are to be implemented nationally by every Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and each Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). These requirements are to be in place by fiscal year ending September 30, 2009. May it also be noted that any modifications or exceptions for meeting the requirements must be reported to, and approved by, the Deputy Under Secretary for Health. All facilities are expected to be in full compliance by the date set forth, however I was unable to acquire any data on what the consequences of non-compliance will be.
Although there is overlap between the “Mental Health Strategic Plan”(MHSP), developed in 2004 as a five year plan of action of over 200 initiatives, and “VHA Handbook 1160.1”VA has used the handbook as a more operational approach to organizing all aspects of veterans’ lives affected by mental health issues, including, but not limited to, homelessness, substance abuse, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder therapies. VA has stated that when the handbook is fully implemented and all patient care recommendations are in place, that every veteran will have ready access to comprehensive, evidence-based care. Mr. Chairman, I believe that VA should be held accountable for fulfilling that statement. Never has there been a time when such care has been needed. VA/VHA set forth and agreed to that promise of care and system improvement and I strongly believe that this committee should do everything in their oversight to ensure all requirements are met by VA/VHA no later than the deadline VA set for themselves, year ending FY09’.
We are fully aware that the handbook is an ambitious undertaking; however VA/VHA has had five years to implement these changes. It is in my opinion of that the standards of care set forth by the handbook guidelines will dramatically increase the quality of mental health care and enhance VA’s overall availability, provision, and coordination of mental health programs. But only if the handbook is implemented correctly, uniformly, and in a timely manner, can the result benefit the mental health well being of our veteran community.
I would also like to notify Mr. Chairman and the Subcommittee on Health of several inadequacies within the system we have unearthed while researching the future of VA health care. These concerns range from minor errors to critical errors that we feel could be resulting in unnecessary deaths of veterans. Today I will impart to you an overview of our findings and recommendations to address each concern.
As the end of FY09’ rapidly approaches, we fervently believe that VA must immediately augment the evaluations of current facilities, development and training of staff, and overall outreach efforts to all medical facilities and personnel to ensure the timely implementation of the handbook’s requirements. These basic, yet fundamentally critical guidelines will provide the foundation for the stability and reliability of the entire VHA mental health care system. Moreover, while we believe that the measures laid out by the handbook should have already been uniformly implemented, we are still very hopeful on the success of the handbook and all the agencies involved in this undertaking. I do acknowledge the significant challenges that are inevitably faced when transforming a mental health care system. However this is not a time for hindrance or hesitations that will impede the implementation of a stable and successful uniform standard of mental health care.