Veteran Affairs Told to Overhaul System
Central Texas veterans waiting for mental health treatment could see the process speed up. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to overhaul the mental health system. It was a reprimand for the long wait time veterans experience when seeking treatment, doctor’s appointments or medical reimbursements, especially for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
More than 5,000 veterans in Texas were homeless in 2009. Some social service workers say that number is increasing, especially as more veterans come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Ken Martin is Executive Director of the Texas Homeless Network. He says service members are accustomed to structure and guidance while they’re in the military, so when they get out, some veterans don’t know what to do next.
“They may be dealing with PTSD but we also know that just the fact of living on the streets is a contributor to PTSD,” Martin said.
Finding treatment is a complicated process. For example, a veteran can go to the emergency room during a psychiatric crisis. From there, the vet would likely be admitted to the Austin State Hospital, because the VA doesn’t have inpatient beds in Austin. He or she would be stabilized and then transported to a VA hospital in either San Antonio or Waco when a bed there becomes available. But that could take days, because those beds stay pretty full.
Veterans who have just come back from the battlefield can get free treatment for five years. Afterwards, they have to go through the system to claim benefits. Duncan McGee is a spokesman with the Texas Veterans Commission, which helps veterans submit claims.
“A claim can take anywhere from six months to we’ve seen claims that have taken up to like 10 years,” McGee said.
It’s the wait time that Paul Sullivan says can be fatal in some cases. Sullivan is the executive director for Veterans for Common Sense, one of the plaintiffs that sued the VA for the delays.
“Maybe there will be additional money for VA from Congress and there will be better streamlined, easier policies for veterans to get care and those will come out over the next couple of years,” he said.
The VA will now have to come up with a plan to overhaul the mental health system or it can appeal this week’s decision.