Report Criticizes VA Over Waits For Mental Health Care

About Half Seen For Full Exam In 14 Days; Other Half Averaged About 50 Days, Says Report

A new Inspector General's report has been released about the time it is taking veterans to receive medical help and reveals the Veterans Health Administration is incorrectly reporting it.

 

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The VHA policy requires an initial exam within 24 hours and full mental health exam within a two-week window. The new report says only about half are seen in 14 days and the remaining half averaged about 50 days to get the full exam.

Marine Richard Gilbert had a traumatic brain injury on his second deployment to Iraq as a sniper.

"It's really embarrassing whenever I forget assignments or I have the exact same conversation," he said. "I didn't feel the VA was taking care of me… absolutely not."

Gilbert said his initial appointment was not the problem but he says it took at least six months to get in for his follow-up.

"There were a few times I would show up for my appointment and be told my appointment was rescheduled for a later date," he said.

According to studies, Gilbert is one of about a third of vets with some sort of mental condition.

10News went inside the local VA hospital to get some answers. Dr. Robert Anthenelli, the associate chief of mental health at VA San Diego, said he been in this line of work for 25 years and that the need continues to grow.

"These are really historic times in the sense that we're seeing a very large number of veterans seeking care," he said. Anthenelli added he feels they are meeting the need.

He said the hospital has seen a 75 percent spike in the number of veterans seeking mental health services in the past five years.

"The earlier we can help veterans, the greater likelihood that we can stop the progress of the illness before it gets too damaging," he said.

Anthenelli said they get 96 percent of patients in within the two-week window. While the report criticized VA hospitals nationally for overestimating their numbers, VA San Diego said they are confident their numbers are correct.

"Obviously, it's not the doctors who are causing this at all," Gilbert said. "I think the VA just didn't anticipate the amount of services they were going to need to provide to us."

VA San Diego is working to put together entire teams to care for veterans to ensure the best treatment for them. Nationally, a group has been established to address the problem and develop a new system for tracking patient care. The VA is hopeful that nearly 2,000 new employees this summer will help better serve those who have served the nation.