VA hires more than 1,000 mental health staff

By Patricia Kime - Staff writer
Posted : Monday Feb 11, 2013 16:56:52 EST

Ten months after announcing plans to hire 1,600 additional mental health professionals and staff to address shortages that have resulted in long wait times for care, the Veterans Affairs Department is two-thirds of the way to meeting its goal, VA officials announced Monday.

VA has hired 1,058 mental health providers and 223 support staff personnel under an initiative launched in April 2012 to ensure “all veterans have access to quality mental health care,” VA Secretary Erik Shinseki said in announcing the initiative.

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At the time, VA had vacancy rates for mental health providers of 23 percent in some areas.

The wait time for mental health treatment at VA averages 50 days, according to the VA Inspector General.

President Obama signed an executive order in August requiring the spots be filled by June 30, 2013.

In a statement on the recent spate of hirings, Shinseki said VA is “not slowing down our efforts even after these initial positive results. We still need to hire more mental health professionals in order to reach our goal, but each new hire means we can treat more veterans and provide greater access to our mental health services.”

VA released the figures in advance of a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday that will focus on access to VA mental health services. Devoting the first full committee hearing of the year to the issue of veterans’ mental health care underscores the importance the committee places on the issue, officials said.