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Joni Ernst’s Veteran Mental Health Care Bill Isn’t The Solution Vets Need
I remember the specific instance in which I realized I was the problem. It was Christmas and I should have been in better spirits. Instead, I was tearing down my 14-year-old cousin for nothing more than teenage narcissism. I was screaming at my father over something insignificant. I was angry all the time and I had no good reason to be. I was on the verge of destroying the support system that had seen me through the years I had spent overseas. I needed to talk to someone.
I had little to no need for the VA until then. When I finally got enrolled, I was told three weeks before I could speak to a counselor. That was simply unacceptable, so I sought out help from a private counselor. I had an appointment within a few days, and one hour and $100 later, I had a new perspective on things. I haven’t needed a session since.
I wish I could say that I was the only veteran that the Des Moines VA failed to schedule in a timely manner. On Feb. 20, 2015, after seeking admittance to the Des Moines VA hospital for his continued struggles with post-traumatic stress, Iowa veteran Richard Miles was found dead in the woods near the popular Gray’s Lake recreational area. Miles, 41, was a veteran of three Army deployments to Iraq, and was a well-known and liked presenter at the Science Center of Iowa. On Wednesday, authorities confirmed his death was a suicide.
In response to his death, Iowa senator and Iraq War veteran Joni Ernst called for an investigation into the VA’s prior care for Miles and just how he ended up taking his own life. In late March, Ernst also introduced a bill aimed at amending parts of the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which proposes that the VA to pay for non-VA mental health care if veterans cannot access treatment within the VA in a timely manner.
The main focus of the bill, as explained on Ernst’s website, is to allow for veterans to receive instant authorization for use of non-VA mental health care if it can be shown they are not receiving timely treatment from the VA. According to Ernst, the average wait time for a mental health appointment with the VA is 36 days, something many veterans can attest to. The other key aspects of the bill are the elimination of the VA’s 40-mile rule for use of private health care, as outlined under the VA Choice Card Program that went into effect last November, as well as incentives for the hiring of mental health care professionals within the VA system.
However, the VA already has an infrastructure in place to boost its capabilities to meet the mental health needs of veterans. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, which was signed into law in January, provides programs to bring more mental health professionals into the VA, such as a student loan repayment program to recruit and retain psychiatrists. The Clay Hunt Act also includes provisions to expand peer support and community outreach pilot programs, as well as calls for an annual, third-party evaluation of the VA’s suicide prevention and mental health care efforts.
The proposal to do away with the VA’s 40-mile rule for mental health care is ambitious; yet, there is no guarantee that the elimination of this rule will ensure more timely access to mental health care. A key provision in the 2014 VA Choice Act states, “Eligible non-VA entities or providers must enter into agreements with the VA to furnish care, must maintain the same or similar credentials and licenses as VA providers, and must submit to VA a copy of any medical records related to care and services provided under the Program for inclusion in the Veteran’s VA electronic medical record.”
For some communities, a licensed social worker is the extent of their mental health capabilities and may not possess the credentials and licenses required by the VA. Furthermore, a local provider may not be able to accommodate the unique stressors and situations that veterans and their families face. This by no means places veterans’ issues ahead of civilian issues, just in a different realm. While a vet or their family may have to travel further to a VA facility, the quality and direction of the VA’s care may be more appropriate.
There is further concern that outsourcing to private providers may create even more issues than that of accessibility. Currently, the VA utilizes the VistA IT system to track and maintain a veteran’s care record. A local counselor would not have access to those prior records and would be required to submit records from any visit. If those records aren’t submitted or lost, future VA counselors or other private providers will miss an important piece of a veteran’s treatment record. Such a gap could mean the difference between life and death.
Finally, there is the question of who determines that the veteran is not receiving adequate or timely health care. Who is the determining authority? Is it the veteran, the counselor, the VA facility director? This point is somewhat concerning as it opens the doors to greater delays in determining that the veteran is delayed in receiving care. More explanation of this is needed.
While Ernst’s call for the review of practices at the Des Moines VA is a responsible move, the submission of this bill is certainly a puzzling one. Laws and their provisions, such as the Clay Hunt Act, are already on the books and should be strengthened. Bills that attempt to duplicate previous efforts are of no help to veterans and slow down efforts to improve VA care.
There is no question that we need to improve the way we handle mental health care for veterans. But the solution isn’t to encourage veterans to seek care outside the VA because it’s not working right. The solution needs to be focused on making the VA an effective institution. Resolve what’s broken, don’t push it aside for the quick fix.
In the instance of Richard Miles, he approached the hospital for help, asking for admittance. He was sent away with nothing more than a prescription for antidepressants. It is heartbreakingly obvious that the situation should have been handled better. Shame on all of us if we don’t we continue to work to fix it.
CAIRO (Reuters) - After losing territory, ISIS fighters are turning to guerrilla war — and the group's newspaper is telling them exactly how to do it.
In recent weeks, IS's al-Naba online newspaper has encouraged followers to adopt guerrilla tactics and published detailed instructions on how to carry out hit-and-run operations.
The group is using such tactics in places where it aims to expand beyond Iraq and Syria. While IS has tried this approach before, the guidelines make clear the group is adopting it as standard operating procedure.
A sprawling new survey says a ‘culture of resilience’ helped US military families weather housing woes for years
A new survey of thousands of military families released on Wednesday paints a negative picture of privatized military housing, to say the least.
The Military Family Advisory Network surveyed 15,901 adults at 160 locations around the country who are either currently living in privatized military housing, or had lived in privatized housing within the last three years. One of the report's primary takeaways can be summarized in two lines: "Most responses, 93 percent, came from residents living in housing managed by six companies. None of them had average satisfaction rates at or above neutral."
Those six companies are Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty, Hunt, Lendlease/Winn, Corvias, and Michaels.
What's behind these responses? MFAN points to the "culture of resilience" found in the military community for why military families may be downplaying the severity of their situations, or putting up with subpar conditions.
"[Military] families will try to manage grim living conditions without complaint," MFAN says in its report. "The norm of managing through challenges, no matter their severity, is deeply established in military family life."
Judge approves negligence lawsuit against Air Force and Pentagon by victims of 2017 Sutherland Springs church massacre
The suit meets the criteria to fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to seek damages in certain cases if they can prove the U.S. Government was negligent, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Under most circumstances the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects the government from lawsuits, but in this case U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez held that failure of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense to log shooter Devin Kelley's history of mental health problems and violent behavior in an FBI database made them potentially liable.
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Not on this carrier, they don't. Although sailors here dropped a few hints about spotting movie stars around the ship as it was docked in San Diego for the film shoot, no cats — or Tomcats — were let out of the bag.
"I can't talk about that," said Capt. Carlos Sardiello, who commands the Roosevelt.