Friday, June 15, 2007

Many Veterans Of Wars In Iraq, Afghanistan Lack Access To Mental Health Treatment

Soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "are finding it more difficult" to receive mental health treatment because therapists say reimbursement rates for care are too low, the AP/Arizona Daily Star reports. According to the AP/Daily Star, about one-third of the 9.1 million people covered under the military health care system, called Tricare, seek mental health counseling in their first year after returning from war.

Wait lists for care "now extend for months to see a military doctor, and it can take weeks to find a private therapist" willing to treat members of the military, the AP/Daily Star reports. "The challenge appears great in rural areas, where many National Guard and Reserve troops and their families live," according to the AP/Daily Star.

This is no bull. During a local Soldiers' Angels event with American Legion Post 370 Riders, I was speaking with the girlfriend of a recently returned Iraq vet (within the last year). He was in Topeka at an "in patient" treatment program. One of the major problems was that the VA only had two PTSD support programs available: one in Kansas City and one in Topeka. Leavenworth, where they lived near, did not have such a program. The waiting list for these programs was almost a year. Needless to say, this vet did not have a year to 'wait'. He wanted to get straight NOW. Unfortunately, that took a lot of work and ended with this vet going to Topeka, almost over an hour away from where he lived and his natural support group of family, friends and organizations he belonged to like the ALR.

He was a member of the Kansas National Guard. Private psychiatrists or other groups were not available to him or were too costly under his Tricare benefits which did not last past 6 months (as most would be aware is a problem when we previously talked about veterans medicine).

In related news, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on Friday said that he supports legislation that would provide new compensation benefits and bonus incentives for military personnel, the Lincoln Journal Star reports. Nelson, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, said that the military health care system has been overwhelmed by "too many patients, too few doctors and too few facilities." In addition, he said that long waiting periods for care, fewer options and burdensome travel requirements have further complicated the system. Nelson said that he will push for more resources, incentives to recruit and retain military personnel and better coordination to assure timely care, the Journal Star reports.

He also said that his subcommittee is developing "wounded warrior" legislation that would strengthen the veterans' health system. Nelson said that he has added $3.5 billion to the Veterans Administration budget recommended by President Bush to achieve his goal of improved services.

He said, "Help is on the way," adding, "Paying more and waiting longer for less care represents a breach of faith with our veterans." Nelson on Saturday outlined his plan during speeches to the Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion (Walton, Lincoln Journal Star, 6/8).

Now that's a congressional plan I can get with.
- May no soldier go unloved