Monday, July 14, 2014

Parents of Veterans Who Died by Suicide Criticize VA's Mental Health Care

On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee listened to emotional stories from family members of soldiers who lost their lives as a result of what they say is inadequate mental health care provided by the Veterans Health Administration.

"We have held a full series of oversight hearings over the last several weeks to evaluate the systemic access and integrity failures that have consumed the VA health care system," said committee Chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) at the hearing's start. "Perhaps none of these hearings have presented the all-too-human face of the VA’s failure so much as today’s hearings will."

Three families and retired military personnel testified before the committee about the barriers uniformed men and women face in accessing effective mental health care. Susan Selke, mother of Marine Sgt. Clay Hunt, 28, who lost his life to suicide in 2011, said that her son was prescribed a brand-name antidepressant that worked well, but was forced to switch drugs because no generic equivalent of the original, and effective, antidepressant was available. Army Sgt. Josh Renschler, who was being treated for anxiety and other medical conditions resulting from a mortar blast in Iraq, explained that he was receiving excellent care through an integrative health initiative until VA "medical center leadership concluded that… [it] was too costly." Other topics discussed were lack of available mental health professionals, long waiting lists, and ineffective communication between the VA and Department of Defense as it concerns veterans’ health records.

"I think that today's hearings went well" said Selke, in an interview with Psychiatric News after her testimony. "I was very pleased at the level of interest, and hopefully some major responses are underway." Later that afternoon, Selke, along with her husband, Richard, and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), an Iraq war veteran, announced the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a bill that would provide suicide-awareness education for veterans and educational loan assistance to those seeking a career in mental health care at the VA.

For information on how to get involved in the push for better mental health care services for military men and women, visit APA’s Legislative Action Center. To read about the recent mental health issues concerning the Veterans Health Administration, see the Psychiatric News articles, "Pentagon, VA Lack Data to Assess PTSD Care Systems," and "Veterans Affairs Scheduling Scandal Leads to Turmoil at the Top."

(photo: Vabren Watts, Psychiatric News)


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