One solution to the scarcity of available mental health-care staff might be for the VA to partner with community mental health centers. “In rural areas particularly, the VA may only need a tenth of a person,” said clinical psychologist Mary Schohn, the VA’s director of mental health operations. “Can somebody move there so we can share a health-care professional?”
This is an idea “that would make perfect sense,” said Linda Rosenberg, the president and chief executive of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, representing 2,000 community mental health organizations. But “the VA seems unwilling or uninterested in doing that. They’re not very good collaborators.”
Some community mental health providers tell a different story. “I would find it hard to say anything bad about our local VA,” said Randy Tate, chief executive officer of NorthCare, in Oklahoma City. NorthCare partners with the VA on a veterans’ treatment program and hopes to join the agency on other projects.
Still, while veterans’ mental health care seems ripe for symbiosis between the VA and community organizations, John Van Camp, president of Southwest Solutions in Detroit, said Obama’s executive order, which will strip 1,600 licensed and near-licensed personnel from a scarce national talent pool, is not conducive to cooperation.
“We’re a half-mile from the VA and we have a phenomenal relationship,” Van Camp said. “But what I don’t understand is the single-mindedness that says all veterans have to be treated in the VA system.”
While some veterans want to be with other veterans, “others want to be treated in the neighborhood — there is no ‘one size-fits-all,’ ” he said. The executive order “could be a great opportunity for a public-private partnership, but it is not a collaborative approach.”
Steve Vogel contributed to this article.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.