Under pressure to reduce the long waits many veterans face for mental health care, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it will hire 1,900 mental health workers, an increase of more than nine percent.
The new positions include 1,600 mental health clinicians, among them nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, as well as nearly 300 support staff.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) called the new positions “desperately needed”given the high suicide rates among veterans and the influx of servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking mental health care.
“Too often we have seen staff vacancies, scheduling delays and red tape leave those veterans who have been brave enough to seek help in the first place left with nowhere to turn,” said Murray, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“These are wounds that cannot wait,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.) chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
The announcement comes in advance of the release next week of a VA inspector general report requested by Murray examining the long wait times for VA mental health care.
The VA said it would use funds from the current budget to begin recruitment for the positions immediately.
“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning veterans,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement announcing the increase.
The VA action is “a start,” Miller said.
“There is much more, however, that VA needs to do to address gaps in services and ensure veterans undergoing treatment are not lost in the system,” he added.