By Claire Crites | Contributor
One of the newest members of the Trump cabinet, Robert Wilkie, was sworn in this past July as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA). In this position Wilkie will have to directly face the current contentious debate over how veterans are able to receive mental health care.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 18 to 22 American veterans commit suicide daily. It is clear that veterans are not receiving the mental health care they deserve. Veterans statistically face a higher rate of mental health issues and suicides than their civilian counterpart but receive less access to the care they need. This is in part due to the fact that veterans often wait grueling months to obtain medical appointments when seeking treatment through the VA. The long waitlist for care is related to a shortage of health care providers, poor scheduling practices and logistical problems related to transitioning from the military health care system to the veteran care system. These waiting periods can sometimes turn deadly as veterans face issues that cannot wait ranging from substance abuse to post-traumatic stress disorder to depression and anxiety.
In order to improve health care services for veterans, Congress has passed recent legislation to integrate public and private care. In 2014 Congress passed the Veterans Choice Act, which expands the criteria by which veterans can seek care from private providers. However, Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America stated that “The passage of this bill through the Senate today is not a silver bullet, but rather it is only a Band-Aid, and one that will soon fall off.”
Even with this current legislation, the problem persists. Just within the past two years alone the VA in Nebraska, Colorado and Virginia to name a few have failed to provide medical appointments in a timely manner. The move to privatization of VA mental health care could also slowly erode the VA network for treating the distinct and specific needs of veterans.
Private and public combinations of service providers are needed to assist current veterans with medical costs and services, but this is a reactionary solution to a more pervasive problem. The VA must improve its medical services offered to address the distinct needs of veterans that private providers can lack.
Unfortunately, this issue can become lost in the noise of our current political climate. However, if you want change and to make veteran services a priority in elections reach out and contact your representative. If you are looking to directly serve, consider volunteering with the VA’s Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, which can be contacted at 254-752-6581. If change is to be made for mental health care for veterans, make it a priority.