The Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday, May 15th to discuss the operation of VA Health Care. This hearing was called because of allegations of inappropriate scheduling by the VA which allegedly lead to the deaths of 40 veterans waiting to receive treatment. The witnesses at the hearing included Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, National Commander of the American Legion Daniel M. Dellinger, National Legislative Director of the Disabled American Veterans Joseph A. Violante, Chief Policy Officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Tom Tarintino, National Legislative Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America Carl Blake, President and CEO of the Student Veterans of America D. Wayne Robinson, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ryan Gallucci, Executive Director For Policy and Government Affairs for the Vietnam Veterans of America Rick Weidman, Acting Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs Richard Griffin, President of the National Association of the State Directors of Veterans Affairs W. Clyde Marsh, Director, Health Care of the Government Accountability Office Debra A. Draper, and Senior Research Fellow of the New America Foundation Phillip Longman.
Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I - VT), Ranking Member Richard Burr (R - NC), and other members of the Veteran’s Affairs Committee made their opening statements regarding the operations of VA Health Care. Long wait times for treatment, lack of accountability, and alleged accounts of manipulating VA records were the main themes.
Secretary Shinseki testified on the immense size and value of the VA, with “over 300,000 VHA leaders and health care employees strive to provide exceptional care to approximately 6.485 million Veterans and other beneficiaries annually” that provides safe, effective healthcare exceeding the industry standard in many areas but notes that improvement is necessary in response to the allegations of employee transgression. Secretary Shinseki also testified that Veteran mental health is a top priority and promoted “a philosophy of ensuring that Veterans receive the best mental healthcare possible, while focusing on the overall well-being of each Veteran.” Shinseki also spoke of the application of new measures to estimate mental healthcare effectiveness, new guidelines to improve the quality of mental health care, and the development of innovative electronic tools to better manage mental health needs.
The witnesses in the second and third panels all emphasized how important mental health care is to Veterans and how necessary it is for the VA to treat. Joseph A. Violante of the DAV testified that of their “1.2 million members—all of whom were wounded, injured or made ill through their military service—rely heavily on VA for some or all of their physical and mental health care needs” but that poor management and accessibility is a nagging issue. Daniel M. Dellinger of the American Legion stated “the problems with mental health scheduling clearly indicate how a lack of available medical personnel can be a large contributing factor to long wait times for treatment” and Richard Griffin of the Department of Veterans Affairs testified that their “review also confirmed that facility managers did not provide adequate staff, training, resources, support, or guidance for effective oversight of the contracted mental health program.”
Preventing suicide among our nation’s veterans is one of AFSP’s top priorities and will be working with leaders inside and outside of government on ways to ensure timely and quality mental health care and robust suicide prevention programs and services.