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VA Undersecretary Calls Mental Health Care “Virtually Inaccessible”

May 24 2006

Murray asks VA for full accounting of mental health care at the agency

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) – a key member of the Senate Veterans Affairs (VA) Committee - today sent a letter to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson requesting a full report of the number of veterans seeking mental health services from the VA and how many of those veterans are getting the care they need.



Murray’s letter follows an article in the May edition of Psychiatric News in which Frances Murphy, M.D., Undersecretary for Health Policy Coordination at the VA, indicates that mental health and substance abuse care are not accessible at many VA facilities. When the services are available, Dr. Murphy asserts that, “waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible.”



“We need real answers from the VA and the Bush Administration,” Murray said today. “No gimmicks. No games. I asked for a 2007 budget that is based on real numbers and real needs at the VA. We need to know the truth about what it will cost to care of both our aging veterans population as well as those returning from operations abroad. Based on Dr. Murphy’s comments, Congress is being kept in the dark.”



Dr. Murphy’s comments as reported in Psychiatric News raise concerns about the validity of the VA’s claims that they have the resources needed to care for our veterans and that their fiscal year 2007 budget is based on real need.

“You have told me time and time again that your agency has the funding necessary to provide care for our veterans. Although I continue to doubt the VA’s ability to adequately budget based on real numbers, you insist that my fears are misplaced,” Murray wrote to Nicholson. “And you have assured me that veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting the services they need. Undersecretary Murphy says the opposite is true.”


Nearly 1.3 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that one third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans face mental health challenges upon their return.



“Caring for the mental health needs of our nation’s veterans is about American values,” Murray said. “If we value to strength of our families, the security of our economy and the promises we have made to our troops, then we must provide the mental health services that our veterans need and deserve.”



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The full text of Senator Murray’s letter to VA Secretary Nicolson follows:



May 24, 2006



R. James Nicholson
Secretary
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20420



Secretary Nicholson:



I recently read an article in Psychiatric News that leads me to believe the Department of Veterans Affairs is unprepared to serve the mental health care needs of our nation’s veterans.



The article reads as follows:

“Frances Murphy, M.D., undersecretary for Health Policy Coordination at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), said the growing numbers of veterans seeking mental health care has put emphasis on areas in which improvement is needed. She noted that some VA clinics do not provide mental health or substance abuse care, or if they do, ‘waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible.’”


As you know, access to mental health services is vital to America’s veterans. The VA must ensure that resources are available to them whether facing challenges from PTSD and depression or other ailments. If we fail to provide these men and women with the care they need, we will set our nation up for the future cost and complications of veterans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and other conditions.



In addition, with an estimated one third of the 1.3 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan facing mental health challenges upon their return, I am concerned that they are not getting the services they need. It is unacceptable that they are encountering VA waiting lists that render mental health care “virtually inaccessible.”



You have told me time and time again that your agency has the funding necessary to provide care for our veterans. Although I continue to doubt the VA’s ability to adequately budget based on real numbers, you insist that my fears are misplaced. And you have assured me that veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting the services they need. Undersecretary Murphy says the opposite is true.



I would like the VA to provide a report of the number of veterans requiring mental health services from the VA and what number of those requests are being filled. Furthermore, I want to know what it will take to eliminate barriers to mental health services for our veterans. Not providing needed mental health services to our veterans is simply unacceptable.





Sincerely,



Patty Murray
United States Senator



Read the Psychiatric News article