Thursday, September 24, 2020

Successful APA Advocacy Ensures Veteran Patient Safety Regarding MH Care

After significant APA advocacy, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee removed a proposal to implement a pilot program allowing clinical psychologists to prescribe and manage medications for veterans who seek care in the Veterans Health Administration.

After learning about the proposal, APA issued an advocacy alert that resulted in over 1,000 members sending more than 3,000 letters to their elected officials on Capitol Hill, opposing the proposal and urging lawmakers to ensure veterans receive the highest quality mental health care possible. Similarly, APA leadership, as well as government relations and policy staff members, vigorously lobbied members of Congress on and off the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and engaged in conversations with top staff at the VA.

The House proposed the pilot program in legislation on veteran suicide prevention that was intended to be a companion bill to the Senate-passed suicide prevention package that had cleared the upper chamber earlier this summer. The House passed its legislation this week without the provision allowing psychologists to prescribe or manage medications.

“We will continue our work with the VA, Congress, and partner organizations to improve the mental health and substance use care available to our veterans through the VHA and beyond,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “We must work with policymakers on genuine solutions that promote the recruitment and retention of critically needed psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health providers who are in short supply within the VA system. Meanwhile, with the help of our members, we have avoided the enactment of a false solution that could have put many veterans at risk, without any improvement in access to the care they truly need.”

On average, 20 veterans die by suicide every day. Often, veterans’ mental illnesses occur alongside complex comorbidities. A 2019 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that veterans diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were 41% more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases than those without PTSD. Additionally, smoking, depression, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol were significantly more prevalent among patients with PTSD.

“We believe that nothing is more important than ensuring that veterans are given high quality mental and physical health care by qualified, appropriately educated, and trained medical clinicians, not more prescribers and more prescriptions,” Levin said. “Veterans have gone above and beyond by serving our country and should not be subjected to a lower standard of care than other patients across the country.”

(Image: David Hathcox)


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