Monday, March 17, 2014

Legislation Introduced to Increase Psychiatric Workforce in VA

Legislation was introduced in Congress last week to address the ongoing psychiatric workforce shortage within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

Reps. Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.), a heart surgeon, and David Scott (D-Ga.) introduced the Ensuring Veterans’ Resiliency Act (HR 4234), which would establish a demonstration project to recruit psychiatric physicians for full-time employment in the VHA by offering medical loan repayments commensurate with other public and private entities.

“This legislation will help ensure that our nation’s veterans, who often face significant mental health challenges, have access to needed mental health care,” said APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D. Several studies place the rate of posttraumatic stress disorder in veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at approximately 40 percent, and each year some 6,000 veterans die by suicide.  Most veterans do not receive adequate treatment for mental illnesses in a timely fashion.

APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., said, “Given that the acute mental health needs of our veterans will be ongoing for years to come, APA strongly supports this legislation. APA commends Reps. Bucshon and Scott for their leadership on this issue and their commitment to ensuring the resiliency of all of our nation’s veterans.”

Specifically, the legislation would establish a three-year demonstration program under the VA modeled on the Department of Defense Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, which offers physicians up to $60,000 in medical school loan repayment for each year of service. It also authorizes the VA to recruit at least 10 psychiatric physicians into the loan repayment program each year; the VA would hire these physicians permanently to fill full-time vacant positions, and program participants must demonstrate a long-term commitment to the VA. Finally, the bill requires a report to Congress on the program’s impact on psychiatric vacancies and recruitment and authorizes a GAO study on pay disparities among psychiatric physicians at the VA.

“Many of the brave men and women who have served our country are returning home without proper attention to their mental health needs,” said Bucshon.  “During my career as a physician and my time working at the VA, I’ve seen firsthand the need for new, dedicated methods that encourage more psychiatrists to choose a career helping veterans. Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for this country, and I firmly believe we should do everything in our power to support them. This legislation is a good first step that will help hire many qualified psychiatrists across the country to provide our veterans the assistance they need and deserve.”

For more information on military psychiatric needs, see Care of Military Service Members, Veterans, and Their Families from American Psychiatric Publishing.

(Image: somartin/


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