VA’s Mental Health Drive Exposes Acute Shortage of Caregivers

Mike O'Brien

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ drive to hire 1,600 additional mental health care professionals has exposed a national shortage of specialists in that field.

In a bid to counter the rise in suicides, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder cases, the VA is striving to recruit the quota of mental health professionals by the end of June.

Michael Culpepper, the VA’s chief officer for workforce management, said the agency "feels optimistic about meeting our goals."

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But some leading health care analysts say the move could harm community health organizations that are already understaffed.

Mental health consultant Charles Curie believes the community-based sector will have hard time replacing the caregivers being recruited by the VA.

Mr. Curie, a former administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said: "There could be unintended consequences — more staff for the VA but less for everyone else."

M. David Rudd, scientific director at the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, told thatthe VA initiative will not help address the scarcity of care providers. He said: "Being a clinician in the mental health field is not a very lucrative profession. Often the cost of education has driven people into other fields where they are better able to pay off their loans."

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The drive comes after the President signed an executive order endorsing the plan to add healthcare staff. There has been mounting pressure on the VA to act as the suicide rate rockets, along with the number of vets being treated for depression and PTSD.

The agency’s recruitment campaign has included publicity campaigns in its 21 geographic subdivisions, e-mail blasts, public service announcements and television commercials.

For the healthcare professionals, the VA offers levels of pay, benefits, working conditions, travel and research opportunities that may not be available in the private sector.

Some of the issues raised in this article will be discussed in full at IDGA’s DoD/VA Healthcare 2013 summit next month. For full details, go