The Washington Post

Hearing: Veterans wait too long for mental health services

Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues often face “unconscionable” waits for treatment that leave them at risk of suicide, according to testimony at a Senate hearing Thursday and new reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general.

The reports come as VA faces unprecedented demand for mental health services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 202,000 veterans from those conflicts have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, according to data released Wednesday. This is an increase of 10,000 veterans from the last quarterly report.

Retired Army Spec. Daniel Williams, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq from a makeshift bomb that also left him with PTSD, told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Thursday that when he tried to reschedule an appointment to enable him to testify, he was told he would have to wait four months for a new date.

“I’m sorry not only do I have to go through this, but many of my fellow soldiers have to as well,” said Williams, who served with the 4th Infantry Division. He testified that he attempted suicide in 2004 after being unable to get psychiatric help but was saved when his gun misfired.

Williams, a resident of Homewood, Ala., described continued struggles battling red tape, waiting for appointments and trying to get attention at VA facilities. “It literally takes my wife nearly getting arrested by VA police,” he said.

“The VA system makes you want to give up and try something else,” added Williams, who testified on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Andrea Sawyer’s husband, retired Army Sgt. Loyd Sawyer, served on a mortuary affairs team in Iraq, where he processed many dead service members and civilians.

Upon his return in 2007, she testified, “I listened to his plans to slit his throat.” Nonetheless, it took months navigating his care through the VA bureaucracy, she said, and added that it remains a round-the-clock effort.

“I gave up my job in order to keep him alive,” said Sawyer, representing the veterans advocacy group Wounded Warrior Project. “That’s what I had to do.”

George Arana, VA’s acting assistant deputy undersecretary for clinical operations and management, apologized to Williams and Sawyer at the hearing. “These stories are just unacceptable,” Arana said.

“Any veteran who needs mental health services must be able to get that care rapidly and as close to home as possible,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chairman of the committee.

VA’s Office of Inspector General reported this week that several VA mental health clinics in Atlanta were found to have unacceptably high patient wait times. Some patients on an electronic waiting list attempted suicide, were hospitalized or went to the emergency department, according to the report.

The report said that facility managers were aware of long wait lists for mental health care but were slow to respond to the problem.

“We were not as quick as we should have been,” William Schoenhard, VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management, told the committee.

The report noted that VA tracks only the time it takes for new patients to get their first appointment. “This is simply unacceptable and must change,” Murray said.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Republicans debated Saturday night. The New Hampshire primary is Feb. 9. Get caught up on the race.
Highlights from Saturday's GOP debate
Except for an eminent domain attack from Bush, Trump largely avoided strikes from other candidates.

Christie went after Rubio for never having been a chief executive and for relying on talking points.

Carson tried to answer a question on Obamacare by lamenting that he hadn't been asked an earlier question about North Korea.
The GOP debate in 3 minutes
Listen
Play Video
Quoted
We have all donors in the audience. And the reason they're booing me? I don't want their money!
Donald Trump, after the debate crowd at St. Anselm's College booed him for telling Jeb Bush to be "quiet."
Listen
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She's planning to head Sunday to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 38%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.