Veterans have long wait times for mental health services, studies find

Some veterans attempted suicide, were hospitalized, or went to emergency departments while on long waiting lists for Veterans Affairs mental health clinics, according to new reports from the VA Office of Inspector General.

An evaluation of the electronic waiting lists used at several mental health clinics in the Atlanta area found a "significantly high number" of patients waited for more than a month during 2010. Though facility managers were aware of the long wait times, they were still slow in getting help to veterans, the Washington Post reports.

"We were not as quick as we should have been," William Schoenhard, VA's deputy undersecretary for health for operations and management, told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs during a committee hearing on Thursday.

The VA OIG found evidence of mental health patients on the waiting list who attempted suicide, were hospitalized, or showed up to the emergency department.

The report noted the agency only tracks the time it takes for new patients to get an appointment. Even so, committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said, the practice was "simply unacceptable and must change."

Mental health services for veterans are in high demand as more and more soldiers are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the report, more than 202,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been seen for post-traumatic stress disorder at VA facilities through March 31.

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