The VA continues to fail in its treatment of veterans with PTSD and/or depression. Current statistics indicate that approximately 20 veterans die each day of suicide. A recent article published in Military Times is just one of far too many which describe ineffective efforts by the VA to provide the treatment these veterans so desperately require – in greater numbers than ever before. In this instance, it appears that VA employees staffing the suicide hotline have “poor work habits” and “other problems” which prevent them from answering up to 35-40% of these crisis calls. Instead, those calls roll over to back-up calls centers with “less trained workers” (but that are hopefully more reliable). Reportedly, some of these VA hotline workers handle fewer than five calls per day. If you think about that for a minute, you realize just how ridiculous and offensive it is. Handling just five calls a day is several steps beyond “poor work habits.”
We have represented family members of veterans who have committed suicide in the past and at present. These families’ stories about their loved ones’ experiences at the VA are heartbreakingly similar – inconsistent treatment, lack of follow-up, inadequate support, a sense that “no one is in charge” of the treatment plan, over-medication, and on and on. In a current case, a young veteran was discharged from a VA medical facility without a supply of his prescribed psychiatric medications – despite three prior suicide attempts, including one just before his final involuntary VA hospital admission. In addition, the VA’s so-called “suicide prevention plan” documented that the veteran reported he had “no one” with whom he felt he could talk about his thoughts of suicide. The medical records contained other red flags as well, and yet this veteran was discharged, alone and without his medication. He had already committed suicide when a VA doctor sent him a form letter expressing concern over the fact that he had missed his first post-discharge appointment.
Although there is no question that PTSD and depression can be difficult to treat, it is patently clear that the VA consistently fails to provide prompt and appropriate mental health treatment to our nation’s veterans. This is not a new problem, but the growing numbers of veterans impacted make it more acute and deadly than ever before. The VA must meet this challenge. Enough with the “poor work habits.” Do the job right.