VA will hire more mental health care workers

“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to anticipate the needs of returning veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said. “As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to anticipate the needs of returning veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

The Veterans Affairs Department is hiring more staff to address the growing mental health care needs of veterans returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the department announced Thursday.

VA will add 1,900 employees to its existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff across the country, including 1,600 clinicians and 300 support employees. Clinicians include nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. The department will place the additional staff in VA facilities nationwide, allocating funds from the current budget to all 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks to begin recruiting immediately.

“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to anticipate the needs of returning veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement announcing the initiative. “History shows the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care.”

Since 2007, the department has expanded its mental health care staff by 41 percent, and has experienced a 35 percent increase in the number of vets receiving mental health services. VA has tried to boost its mental health care services by integrating them into the primary care process and expanding its suicide prevention program, among other initiatives.

“When our troops return home, we need to do everything we can to make sure they get the health care -- including mental health care -- they need and deserve,” Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., said in a statement. “We have taken tremendous strides in just the last few years to improve mental health services for our troops and veterans, and I’m glad the VA has heeded our bipartisan call to ensure they have the personnel required to meet our veterans’ needs.”

VA’s Office of Inspector General reported in 2011 that some vets who have faced delays in obtaining mental health care services attempted suicide, were hospitalized, or had to seek emergency room help.

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