Akaka Continues to Address Mental Health Concern Over Returning Servicemembers

Hilo, Hawaii - Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told Senator Daniel K. Akaka today the current veterans clinic in Kona is too small and will establish a more adequate clinic by mid-2006.

This news came as Senator Akaka, Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, concluded field hearings on the "State of VA Care in Hawaii." Much of today's hearing focused on mental health care services provided to returning servicemembers.

Recently, the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Residential Rehabilitation Program (PRRP) that provided services to patients with shut down. VA determined that approximately 830 veterans were treated at the center. VA said it moved the PRRP from Hilo to Honolulu to provide enhanced mental health services to veterans with both acute and chronic PTSD.

Katherine King, a disabled veteran and Big Island resident who testified before the panel, said, "PTSD victims do not schedule when they are going to have an episode, it is not an 8am to 4pm disorder. There are no 24-hour-services available because of the recent removal of the PRRP program, veterans like myself with PTSD and other Mental Health issues, tend to self medicate because the pain inside becomes so great, it is either self medicate, or suicide."

VA Under Secretary for Health, Jonathan Perlin stated, "VA expects a significant cohort of Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom veterans with acute PTSD or Acute Stress Disorder to seek services from VA. Most of these veterans reside in Oahu and the best treatment for them is outpatient care that integrates treatment with their families and community."

VA estimates up to 15,000 Hawaii residents have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as active duty personnel, Reservists, and Hawaii National Guard personnel. Nine of every 10 soldiers in the Hawaii Army National Guard have been activiated to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The earlier a veteran receives care after separation from the military, the greater the likelihood the veteran will not have long-term problems," stated Senator Akaka. "We not only need to be looking at servicemembers but also their parents, spouses and family members."

The U.S. Senate recently passed the Vet Center Enhancement Act, sponsored by Senator Akaka, which authorizes VA to hire more Global War on Terror Outreach Coordinators; gives VA authority to administer bereavement counseling at Vet Centers; and authorizes $180 million for Vet Centers.

Senator Akaka returns to Washington D.C. this weekend for the start of the second-half of the 109th Congress.