Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Commander Gary L. Fry Commends Department of Veterans 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.
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 www.amvets.org.
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.