McGuire, a psychiatrist and APA member who oversees national mental health policy at the VHA, was invited to address the Assembly by Speaker Jenny Boyer, M.D., to update members on the steps being taken at the VA to provide timely, high-quality mental health care to veterans and regain their trust in a system whose deficiencies made headline news earlier this year.
McGuire noted that the new secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, has begun to make institutional changes in the VA’s culture that reflect his previous work in the private sector as head of Procter & Gamble. The changes coalesce around the theme “My VA”—meaning that the VA is shifting organizationally to put the population it serves at the center of its decision making and understand veterans’ needs through their eyes.
Of the 21,000 mental health professionals working in VHA settings, about 3,000 are psychiatrists, but many more are needed, said McGuire. There are 24 million veterans in the United States, one-third of whom are enrolled in VA care, and the demand for mental health services is growing. The recently enacted Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, which APA supported, includes initiatives to expand access to mental health care (including care from non-VHA physicians) and increase the number of mental health clinicians in the VHA, opening up new opportunities for psychiatrists.
Going forward, McGuire said there would be more efforts to support common goals with the private sector, such as medical school loan forgiveness programs and increased emphasis on telepsychiatry. He thanked APA for its partnership and support to ensure that this country’s veterans are front and center in getting the mental health care they need and that the principles of recovery and resilience are applied to the fullest for them.
"The VA can’t do it alone. We need a lot of help from you,” said McGuire.
(Image: David Hathcox)