Mental health and specifically veteran mental health is a stubborn issue that faces our nation and though I believe these representatives have good intentions, this is a weak effort to address the continued and rampant crisis facing our veterans and their families. We need real improvement, real solutions for a very real problem.
The report stated, "[v]eterans are at increased risk for mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared to the general population, and they often face barriers to accessing mental health care." The study went on to say, "[i]mproving the quality of mental health care for veterans is a critical public health issue" (RAND, 2019). They sought to "identify key strategies for improving the quality of mental health care for veterans" and by drawing on RAND’s extensive research on mental health care for veterans, they were able to identify key challenges and promising strategies.
Here are the five key strategies that this report uncovered:
- Access to Care:
Improving access to mental health care should be a key priority for the VA. Long wait times and limited access to mental health care providers are major barriers to care. The VA should increase the use of telehealth and other remote care technologies to improve access to care, particularly for rural and remote veterans.
- Care Coordination:
Care coordination models that promote collaboration and communication among providers can improve the quality and efficiency of care. VA care coordination can help address the fragmentation and inefficiencies that can result from multiple providers caring for a patient.
- Evidence-Based Treatments:
The VA should continue to increase the use of evidence-based treatments for mental health conditions. This includes cognitive behavioral therapy for depression and anxiety, and medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders. These treatments are effective, but they are not always used in clinical practice.
- Workforce Shortages:
There is a drastic shortage of mental health providers in many areas, which can severely limit access to care. The VA should expand the mental health workforce by increasing the number of mental health providers, improving recruitment and retention of providers, and expanding the use of non-physician providers such as social workers and nurse practitioners.
- Patient-Centered Care:
Patient-centered care is an approach to care that is tailored to the individual needs and preferences of each patient. Promoting patient-centered care in mental health care involves involving patients in treatment planning and decision-making, and taking into account the patient’s preferences, values, and goals for treatment.
First, I think art therapy should be included within "Evidence-Based Treatments". Art therapy has a long history of effectiveness with dozens of peer-reviewed studies showcasing how including art therapy as part of a veteran's overreaching treatment plan can positively impact results.
The other missing portion is family care and specifically providing treatment, counseling, and therapy not just for the veteran but for their family members. PTSD doesn't just impact the veteran and the symptoms can have devastating effects on families. Providing care for families such as therapy, groups, art therapy options, and other care for the entire family of the veteran may have huge implications and dramatic results.
To sum it all up, though these representatives have their hearts in the right place, this is a real problem that needs real solutions, not just a week of mentions on social media and outreach efforts which the VA is hardly equipped to handle. We need an overhaul of the system, real reform to impact real change and produce effective results. I expect more out of our congressmen and women. In short, do better Rep Lee & Rep Tonko, we need results, not a new hashtag trend. Fortes fortuna adiuvat - fortune favors the brave.
Jaeson "Doc" Parsons
- Improving the Quality of Mental Health Care for Veterans: Lessons from RAND Research. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB10087.html.
- HR 236, To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to designate a week as "Battle Buddy Check Week" for the purpose of outreach and education concerning peer wellness checks for veterans, and for other purposes. www.congress.gov/bill/118th-congress/house-bill/236/