BY THOMAS C. HALL, Ph.D., CHAIR
During the October Board of Directors meeting, several issues came to the PTSD/SA committee’s attention regarding frustrations that veterans are reporting about behavioral health. All of these need to be addressed. They are:
The growing reliance on peer-led groups by the Behavioral Health Services of the VA’s Veterans Health Administration
Multi-page questionnaires given to veterans seeking suicide prevention assistance from the VA
Women veterans continue to feel unsafe or uncomfortable accessing services from the VA, including mental health.
Veterans report long wait times at some Vet Centers.
Consider the problems with VA peer-led groups. Apparently, there are not enough professional staff to address the need. A veteran goes to the VA expecting a professional to at least be involved in his or her treatment. Crisis does occur in a peer-led group. The committee insists that someone be trained to address the crisis and knowledgeable about how to reach out for backup in a crisis situation. It is assumed when professionals lead support groups they have a functional knowledge of the resources available and how to quickly access them.
To the second point: the perception that the VA is more focused on research than being with a veteran. Overly complex and question-driven assessments can give the impression that an appointment is more an interrogation than a way to get to know veterans to better help them find their way out of suicidal thinking.
The committee heard from women and men who reported that they have been told that many women are afraid to use services in the VA. When they do, they find the women-oriented services are in short supply. The committee has been concerned for some time about the lack of accessible day care for parents to use during their appointments.
Finally, the last point: Since all Vet Centers have been fully funded, the committee has developed a Survey of Veteran Satisfaction to be distributed by state council presidents and filled out by veterans who have used a Vet Center in the last year or so. The VVA Board of Directors, the Conference of State Council Presidents, and members of the PTSD/SA Committee who have used a Vet Center already have completed the survey. This will help find strengths of local Vet Centers, as well as areas in which they need more support. Upon completion, please return them to VVA National in care of Kathy Wiblemo or Tom Hall.
Feel free to contact me with your information and concerns so we can develop a better picture of veterans’ needs. Because we know the importance of the VA to all veterans, we strive to be a friend of the department. A real friend will tell the VA when projects and programs drift off the mission of serving veterans and recognize successes.
Contact your representatives and ask what is being done to address these concerns. Then make an appointment to meet the hospital administrator. Only in this way can we begin to address these issues from the ground up.