The VA health-care system is also increasing the number of psychologists to care for service members who retire from or leave the military, says Antonette Zeiss, PhD, deputy chief consultant for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Mental Health Services.
Starting in 2005, the VA began hiring an additional 808 psychologists, joining the 1,800 psychologists employed across its health-care system, Zeiss says. As of May, the VA had hired 478 additional psychologists toward that target. Those psychologists will bolster services for all veterans, but the increased staffing will help meet the mental health needs of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans from the war on terrorism in several regions around the world and operations in and around Afghanistan.
The first time service members visit a VA facility, they are automatically screened for mental health problems and TBI symptoms. For all veterans who request or are referred for mental health services, the VA will schedule an evaluation within 24 hours, says Zeiss. In that evaluation, the urgency of the need for care will be determined. If the veteran has reached a "crisis point" and needs help immediately, help will be provided, according to Zeiss. For those with less pressing mental health concerns, the VA has set a target of another visit and consultation leading to a diagnosis and a treatment plan within two weeks of contact, she says.
Of the 229,015 veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan who have sought VA service since 2002, almost 37 percent reported a mental health problem, Zeiss says.
In rural areas, the VA is making mental health care more available through telemedicine and case-management teams.
Overall, the VA is encouraging veterans and family members to seek help early, says Zeiss.
"I really hope we can see people more quickly, and we can prevent the kind of downward cascade of...the Vietnam era," she says.
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