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VA mental health summits aim to improve care

Jun. 3, 2013 - 04:45PM   |  
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The Veterans Affairs Department will host mental health summits at all 152 VA medical centers from July to mid-September in an effort to improve coordination between VA and community behavioral health providers, President Obama announced today.

The meetings will bring together mental health specialists, government officials and veterans service organizations to facilitate cooperation, with a goal to improve mental health outreach and treatment for veterans.

The summits will build on lessons learned from a VA pilot program available in nine states where veterans have access to community mental health providers.

“We lose 22 veterans a day to suicide, and we have to do a better job than that of preventing these all-too-often silent tragedies,” Obama said during opening remarks at the National Conference on Mental Health at the White House.

In the past year, VA has redoubled efforts to improve patient access to mental health care. It has hired nearly 1,600 additional mental health professionals and filled 2,036 vacancies.

It also has doubled the capacity of its Veterans Crisis Line and introduced programs such as education initiatives and mobile apps to assist veterans seeking behavioral health treatment.

VA Secretary Erik Shinseki is scheduled to address the national conference this afternoon. He said late last month that VA is making progress widening its mental health capacity.

“Our ongoing, joint efforts reflect our commitment to the health and well-being of the men and women who have served the nation,” Shinseki said.

VA announced the effort to hire additional providers in April 2012 amid pressure from Congress to improve mental health services for veterans.

A VA inspector general investigation found that patients faced inordinate delays getting initial mental health appointments and followup care, with an average wait time of 50 days to get care.

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