By Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director
Veterans Day, Nov. 11, honors men and women who have served in our country's armed forces. We owe them our thanks. Unfortunately that doesn't always extend to the health care they receive.
Last year, more than 1.2 million veterans were treated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, about a third for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is an increase of about 25 percent from four years before, as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Washington Post reports that approximately 18 veterans die from suicide every day. Yet in survey released in September, the VA reported that 70 percent of its doctors, nurses and social workers believe the system lacks the staff and space to provide adequate mental health care. More than 37 percent said they cannot schedule an appointment for a new patient within 14-days.
The study was requested by the Senate Veterans Committee after a hearing in which former Army infantryman Daniel Williams testified for NAMI's behalf, describing how he was told there would be a six-month wait before he could get an appointment with a psychiatrist.. He testified that he attempted suicide with a .45 caliber pistol, "but by the grace of God, the weapon misfired."
In October, a study by the RAND Corporation found "large discrepancies" in the quality of care in different VA facilities across the country. Three received ratings of about 75 percent. Nine were below 25 percent.
NAMI maintains an on-line Veterans Resource Center. We advocate for veterans before Congress. In some VA facilities, we offer Family-to-Family education and support programs for the families of veterans. We continue to promote action and awareness within the military and VA and produce podcasts and other resources to empower active duty, veterans and their families to seek help and support. We are proud of those contributions, but we know that much more is needed.
On Veterans Day, as a nation, we must commit to doing more over the long haul. That will be the true measure of honoring the men and women who deserve our thanks for their willingness to serve.