The Department of Veterans Affairs may need to hire more mental health workers on top of the 1,900 new positions announced last month, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki told a House panel Tuesday.
Skinseki made the comments at a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held in response to the release of a report from the VA’s inspector general that found the department has greatly overstated how quickly it provides mental-health care for veterans.
“Our efforts will not cease with the announcement of the 1,900 additional personnel,” Shinseki said. “Future adjustments may be likely.”
Shinseki said the plans for new hires have been in the works for months and were not in response to the IG report. “We will continue to review and monitor our facilities and veterans’ feedback so that we can make other adjustments that are needed,”he said.
But Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the committee, questioned the timing of the VA’s announcement, noting that the additional staff was not included in the Obama administration’s 2013 budget.
“The IG’s report clearly illustrates that the VA does not have meaningful or reliable data to accurately measure a veteran’s access to care of a facility’s mental health staffing needs,” Miller said.
“To say that the findings in that report are troubling would be a serious understatement,” Miller added.
The VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health care since 2007, and over that time has increased its mental health staff by 41 percent, Shinseki said.
The hearing comes a day after a federal appeals court in California reversed a previous ruling that ordered the VA to overhaul its mental health care system
The decision Monday was sharply criticized by Veterans for Common Sense, the group which brought the lawsuit charging that the VA’s system leaves veterans waiting for years for mental health care.
“VCS vows to fight this heartbreaking decision all the way to the end, because 18 of our veterans commit suicide every day,” said Patrick Bellon, the group’s executive director.
“The ruling is shameful because VA testimony before Congress last month confirmed the reasons for our lawsuit: Veterans wait endlessly for care, and VA misleads Congress about the delays,” added Paul Sullivan, former executive director of the group.