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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Commander Gary L. Fry Commends Department of Veterans Affairs For Increase In Health Care Professionals

va seal1 150x150 Commander Gary L. Fry Commends Department Of Veteran Affairs For Increase In Health Care Professionals 

VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­seki announces hir­ing of 1,600 new men­tal health care professionals

LANHAM, Md., April 23, 2012—AMVETS National Com­man­der Gary L. Fry expressed his sup­port today for the deci­sion to increase men­tal health staffing at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs by 1,600 pro­fes­sion­als. VA Sec­re­tary Eric K. Shin­seki announced on Thurs­day, April 19, the addi­tion of 1,600 men­tal health work­ers, includ­ing psy­chol­o­gists, psy­chi­a­trists, nurses, social work­ers and pro­fes­sional coun­selors, as well as 300 sup­port staff, increas­ing the men­tal health staff by nearly 10 per­cent. Hop­ing to reduce wait times and serve an increas­ing num­ber of return­ing war vet­er­ans, this increase in pro­fes­sion­als will sup­ple­ment the exist­ing work­force of 20,590 men­tal health staff. “As the tide of war recedes, we have the oppor­tu­nity, and the respon­si­bil­ity, to antic­i­pate the needs of return­ing vet­er­ans” Shin­seki said in a statement.

AMVETS rec­og­nizes that the VA faces sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges ensur­ing that newly return­ing war vet­er­ans have access to post-deployment read­just­ment ser­vices and spe­cial­ized treat­ments while guar­an­tee­ing that all other enrolled vet­er­ans gain and keep access to effec­tive, timely, high-quality men­tal health ser­vices. This new hire ini­tia­tive fol­lows a VA review that deter­mined short­ages in the men­tal health staff resulted in longer wait times for vet­er­ans to receive treat­ment. Begin­ning imme­di­ately, VA hopes the new per­son­nel will help to meet the needs of an increas­ing num­ber of vet­er­ans who are seek­ing men­tal health care.

I applaud Sec­re­tary Shinseki’s action to address the crit­i­cal issue of vet­er­ans’ men­tal health care by adding the skilled and trained pro­fes­sion­als we need in this area,” said Fry. “AMVETS will con­tinue to work with our part­ners at VA, in Con­gress, and the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion, to ensure VA has the resources nec­es­sary to meet the needs of our Amer­i­can veterans.”

Since 2007, VA has expe­ri­enced a 35 per­cent increase in the num­ber of vet­er­ans who receive men­tal health ser­vices. Untreated and unhealed phys­i­cal and men­tal health com­bat injuries play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the num­ber of mil­i­tary and vet­eran sui­cides. VA reports that 18 vet­er­ans take their own lives each day, total­ing 6,750 vet­er­ans’ sui­cides per year. In a Fall 2011 sur­vey, 40 per­cent of the sur­veyed men­tal health providers gave a wait-time of 14 days for appoint­ments. Result­ing from staff defi­cien­cies, this wait-time proves crit­i­cal as vet­er­ans face life-threatening issues and are left with­out avail­able pro­fes­sion­als to pro­vide sup­port and treatment.

Chair­man of the Sen­ate Vet­er­ans’ Affairs Com­mit­tee U.S. Sen­a­tor Patty Mur­ray will hold a hear­ing on Wednes­day, April 25 to dis­cuss the defi­cien­cies in vet­er­ans’ men­tal health care and to hear the Inspec­tor General’s find­ings on the sub­ject. “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,” states Mur­ray in a state­ment. The VA has taken the first steps in solv­ing the prob­lems involved in vet­er­ans’ men­tal health care and AMVETS actively sup­ports these ini­tia­tives in aid­ing our nation’s veterans.

About AMVETS:    
A leader since 1944 in pre­serv­ing the free­doms secured by America’s armed forces, AMVETS pro­vides sup­port for vet­er­ans and the active mil­i­tary in procur­ing their earned enti­tle­ments, as well as com­mu­nity ser­vice and leg­isla­tive reform that enhances the qual­ity of life for this nation’s cit­i­zens and vet­er­ans alike. AMVETS is one of the largest congressionally-chartered vet­er­ans’ ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions in the United States, and includes mem­bers from each branch of the mil­i­tary, includ­ing the National Guard and Reserves. To learn more visit

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Origin of Veteran Health Care

Civil War veteran's home in Bath, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Department of Veteran Affairs

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War began in 2011 and will last until 2015, representing the five years that this nation stood divided. Many recognize the Civil War as a milestone in America’s history resulting in the end of slavery. The Civil War also created the need for the first national cemetery, the recognizable Arlington Cemetery. Unknown to many, the Civil War also prompted the creation of veterans’ health care. Prior to the beginning of the Civil War, only approximately 80,000 veterans were treated at veterans’ homes. At the close of this five-year battle, more than 1.9 million soldiers were added to this population.

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. served as a government hospital for Union and Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines, including African-American service members. Individuals were faced with overcrowding and often were sent to tents behind the hospital, where staff treated the overflow of causalities. Faced with the need to provide veterans with long-term care, President Abraham Lincoln appealed to Congress for facilities and programs to serve veterans.

In March 1865, a national government home for Union veterans was opened. Confederate soldiers would have to wait until 1958 to be formally pardoned and legally recognized as veterans. As more veterans applied for care, veterans’ homes began to pop up in other parts of the country. Eventually, 11 national veteran homes would serve our nation’s service members in 1873.

Beginning as simple sleeping quarters, the veteran home began to evolve and include recreational activities, libraries and church services. Some even added movie theatres. By entertaining veterans, the staff recognized that mental health and morale was just as important as healing an individual’s physical wounds.

The Veteran Administration was established in 1930 and added three more veteran homes to their system. Still operating under the same values and mission that were established in 1865, the VA attempts to honor the sacrifice that veterans have made on behalf of our country and our citizens. Upholding promises, the VA continues to make headway in addressing key issues that affect our veterans, including homelessness, mental health, and unemployment. Recently, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced the addition of 1,600 mental health workers, which will allow wait times to be decreased.

Beginning 150 years ago with the Civil War, our government recognized a need to serve our veterans after the war ended. AMVETS continues to support the preservation of all earned veteran benefits and will continue to tackle issues, including problems in the veteran health care system, on behalf of American veterans everywhere.

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