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Today, during his remarks at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, President Obama is expected to announce 19 new executive actions that the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Defense (DoD) are taking to improve the mental health of service members, veterans and their families.
Today’s announcement builds on the actions the Departments have taken in response to the President’s 2012 Executive Order on service members, veterans and their families’ mental health. In response to the Executive Order, VA has increased its mental health staffing, expanded the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line, and enhanced its partnerships with community mental health providers.
DoD is reviewing its mental health outreach programs to prioritize those with the greatest impact; DoD and VA worked to increase suicide prevention awareness and, DoD, VA and the National Institutes of Health jointly developed the National Research Action Plan on military and veteran’s mental health to better coordinate federal research efforts.
These efforts and actions represent the latest in DoD and the VA’s continued commitment to ensure that this Administration is working to fulfill our promises to service members, veterans and their families, and we will continue to look for additional ways to do so in this space, both thorough our work and work with the private sector.
Read a full summary of the Executive recommendations here and watch his speech at 12:00 PM ET below.
I was one of those who harshly criticized the Veterans Administration for the alleged manipulation of waiting list data, the falsifying of appointment records, the use of “secret waiting lists” to hide delays in treating veterans at VA facilities, etc.
I also reported on allegations that dozens of veteran patients died while waiting for care.
The “VA Scandal” eventually led to the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, the placing of the director of the Phoenix hospital, Sharon Helman, on administrative leave and the start of the process to fire her, but also — a good and needed thing — the passage by Congress of a $15 billion plan to improve access veterans have to medical providers and treatment.
This evening, the New York Times reports that while the VA “remains culpable for covering up those long waiting times, in Phoenix and other medical centers,” an investigation just concluded by the watchdog office for the Department of Veterans Affairs “has been unable to substantiate allegations that 40 veterans may have died because of delays in care at the veterans medical center in Phoenix, according to a letter from the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.”
The report by the VA’s office of inspector general is expected to be released this week that will describe findings from its investigation into Phoenix, says the Times.
However, although a letter sent from the new Veterans Affairs secretary, Robert A. McDonald and the interim under secretary for health, Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, to the inspector general states that the investigation was unable to prove a link between the deaths of 40 veterans and delays in care, it also says “It is important to note that while O.I.G.’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality of care concerns, O.I.G. was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans.”
The two also vowed to continue to get veterans off waiting lists and to hold administrators accountable “for willful misconduct or management negligence.”
In an interview, the deputy Veterans Affairs secretary, Sloan D. Gibson, cautioned that even though the report did not suggest that deaths of veterans in Phoenix were linked to long delays in care, the agency remains culpable for covering up those long waiting times, in Phoenix and other medical centers.
“I’m relieved that they didn’t attribute deaths to delays in care, but it doesn’t excuse what was happening,” Mr. Gibson said. “It’s still patently clear that the fundamental issue here is that veterans were waiting too long for care, and there was misbehavior masking how long veterans were waiting for care.”
Investigators found that in many facilities, artifices were used to falsify waiting time data, while veterans languished.
The reviews blamed a corrosive and retaliatory management culture, perverse incentives for administrators, and a shortage of doctors even as demand for appointments soared.
Read more here.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.