Statement of Ranking Member Richard M. Burr
November 30, 2011
Good morning, Madam Chairman, and thank you for holding this important hearing to examine the barriers veterans face in receiving mental health services from VA. Welcome to our witnesses. It is insights from people like you that help this Committee perform our oversight duties.
As you know, this hearing is a follow-up to the July 14th mental health hearing where serious issues were raised by two of our witnesses, Andrea Sawyer and Daniel Williams, about problems accessing appropriate VA mental health care. VA told Daniel and Andrea’s husband Loyd that they would have to wait months to see a provider. Then, when Loyd was finally able to get treatment from VA, we were told there was no coordination of care among his providers. Unfortunately, their stories are not unique. I continue to hear from veterans about the problems they run into in trying to get mental health care.
As the Chairman mentioned, after the last mental health hearing, she requested that VA conduct a survey of its mental health care providers to try to get to the root of the problem. The results of the survey confirmed what we already knew – that some veterans have a very difficult time getting an appointment scheduled.
This is simply unacceptable. The men and women of the armed forces suffering from the invisible wounds of war deserve better. So, today, we’ll again look at what is causing these problems, why they haven’t been fixed, and, more importantly, when veterans will be able to get the appropriate, timely care they need and deserve.
At a hearing in May, Dr. Zeiss indicated that VA does have the resources it needs to meet the mental health needs of veterans. In fact, in fiscal year 2011, Congress appropriated $5.7 billion for mental health services, a 25 percent increase over the previous year’s budget and a 136 percent increase since 2006. What has VA been doing with the resources Congress has provided over the years?
Also, as VA’s testimony points out, there has been a 47.8 percent increase in mental health staffing since 2006. Yet, in a VA Inspector General report, published earlier this year, the IG reported that only 16 percent of the sites they visited met their staffing requirements for mental health. Why haven’t these staffing increases been effective?
To top it all, VA’s response to the survey was to put together an “Action Plan” to develop a plan to address the issues raised by VA clinicians. What is the plan of action that VA outlined? Focus groups, audits, and publishing yet more policy guidelines. How does this help a veteran in need of mental health services today? How does the action plan help veterans waiting to get follow-up treatment?
As Dr. Hoge will testify today, 70 to 80 percent of patients diagnosed with PTSD can get better, if the patients are able to get care and continue with that treatment over the long-term. At VA, however, veterans may get their initial visit, but many are not able to get the on-going treatment that they need.
What’s really troubling is that the problems we’ll hear about today are not different from what was discussed at the July 14th hearing. I had expected that four and a half months would be enough time for VA to come up with solutions but it appears that is not the case.
As we’ll hear today, aggressive steps must be taken now. And, if VA is not able to provide the appropriate care to veterans in a timely fashion, VA should consider sending veterans to someone who can help them promptly using their fee-basis authority.
Thank-you, Madam Chairman; I look forward to working with you to ensure veterans receive the mental health treatment they need without delay.
Table of Contents