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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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PTSD/Substance Abuse COMMITTEE REPORT

BY TOM BERGER, CHAIR
In response to an inquiry by Reps. Lane Evans (D-Ill.) and Michael Michaud (D-Maine), the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs minority staff issued a report in mid-October on the capacity of the Vet Centers to meet the needs of OEF and OIF veterans, their families, and veterans from previous wars, including Vietnam. Democratic staffers surveyed 60 Vet Center team leaders nationwide to determine whether the Vet Centers have experienced significant increases in outreach and services to OEF and OIF veterans, and whether such increases, if any, have affected the capacity and quality of counseling services to veterans.

According to the report, Vet Centers have seen a significant increase in outreach and counseling services to OEF and OIF veterans. From October 2005 to June 2006, the number of OEF and OIF veterans seeking PTSD services and readjustment counseling from Vet Centers doubled. Without an increase in counseling staff, this rise in workload has affected access to quality care, and some Vet Centers have started to limit access. The report notes:

One hundred percent of the surveyed Vet Centers have seen a significant increase in outreach and services to OEF and OIF veterans. For half of the Vet Centers, this increase has affected their ability to treat existing clients. Of these Vet Centers, 40 percent have directed veterans for whom individualized therapy would be appropriate to group therapy. Roughly 27 percent have limited or plan to limit access to marriage or family therapy. Nearly 17 percent of the workload-affected Vet Centers have, or plan to, establish waiting lists. Of the surveyed Vet Centers, one in four has taken, or will take, some action to manage increasing workloads, including limiting services and establishing waiting lists. One in five Vet Centers responded that they have little or no capacity to provide family counseling or therapy to help families support veterans with PTSD or other mental health concerns. Thirty percent of the Vet Centers reported that they need more staff.
The study also found that Vet Center staff are highly dedicated and committed to helping veterans and their families, often working overtime and on weekends. In addition, the report concludes that the Vet Centers have a unique mission and are vital to our nation’s ability to provide veterans with help in resolving war-related trauma and that the administration has failed to increase staffing or provide other resources adequately.

Contrast this with comments from VA Secretary Nicholson in a Knight-Ridder article published October 23, in which he said: “the agency had enough money and staff to treat veterans’ mental health needs. We’re dealing with it with great excellence.” In addition, the VA’s response to the report also noted that “no Vet Center has a waiting list, and all veterans without appointments are welcomed and assessed within 30 minutes of their arrival.” The agency said it had authorized three new centers and had been expanding eleven others since the Iraq War began. It also has hired 100 more veterans—a 10 percent staff increase—as outreach specialists. “Ninety-eight percent of all Vet Center clients have told us they are highly satisfied with our services and would refer a fellow veteran to a Vet Center if he or she needed help,” the VA statement said.

VVA has long been a strong advocate for the Vet Center program. The Vet Center program needs an immediate infusion of $18-20 million to pay for an additional 250 professional staff to be distributed among the 207 centers currently in operation. This is in addition to the 100 peer counselors they’ve hired as temporary staff to perform outreach. Let your elected congressional representatives know about this situation.

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