The official blog of American Veteran Magazine, the national quarterly publication of AMVETS.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

VA's Mental Health Strategic Plan

Five years ago, the Bush Administration commissioned a mental health strategic plan for the VA in an effort to standardize and modernize the system designed to handle the invisible wounds of war.

As a way to implement the strategic plan, VA commissioned the VHA Uniform Mental Health Service Handbook in June 2008 (VHA 1160.01). The handbook outlined more than 200 critical benchmarks that must be met by all VA health care facilities to be in compliance. Yesterday was the deadline for 100-percent compliance.

Since VA's Office of the Inspector General issued a report on compliance last spring, AMVETS has been following up on the handbook's implementation.

"At the time, VA was optimistic about the numbers presented in the OIG report, which demonstrated near compliance in most areas," said AMVETS Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof who had testified on the OIG report before Congress in the spring. "Unfortunately, AMVETS noticed that the OIG's data set was incomplete. Only 149 of 171 VA medical facilities even responded to OIG's inquiry."

The missing data, compounded with the troubling trends in veteran suicides, led AMVETS leaders to conclude that perhaps everything had not gone according to plan. Now that the deadline has passed, AMVETS has started to ask tougher questions.

AMVETS National Commander Duane Miskulin has made veterans' mental health issues a top priority for his year in office, and intends to hold VA accountable for the strategic plan's implementation.

"It's heart-wrenching to see young veterans losing the battle with themselves on the home front, after surviving the battle with our enemies," Miskulin said. "VA's implementation of this handbook is one critical step in ensuring our veterans have the resources to cope with these invisible wounds."

Since yesterday, AMVETS legislative and communications departments have been making calls to check on the status of VA's implementation. Check back shortly with American Veteran Online for updates.

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