The Department of Veterans Affairs says it plans to hire 1,900 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, clinicians and clerical employees, a 10 percent increase in its mental health staff. That's welcome progress for a system that is struggling to meet the needs of veterans. But there are questions about whether it will be enough â€” and whether the department is truly facing up to its problems.
On Monday, the department's inspector general released a report showing that veterans are waiting far longer for mental health care than the department has been willing to admit. A new applicant for mental health services is supposed to receive an evaluation within two weeks, a standard the department says it meets more than 95 percent of the time. But the inspector general said that fewer than half of veterans received evaluations within 14 days. The rest waited an average of 50 days.
This sounds distressingly familiar. Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, accused the V.A. of "unchecked incompetence" in delaying treatment and ordered it to overhaul mental health care for troubled veterans, who are killing themselves by the thousands each year.
Eric Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, has taken admirable steps to help veterans by expanding and improving programs to fight homelessness and provide more psychological care. But a lot more needs to be done.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress seem determined to do less. House budget-cutters have already made a target of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs a housing-voucher program with the Department of Veterans Affairs that has saved many thousands of veterans from homelessness. President Obama and Democratic leaders who have vowed to protect veterans' assistance will need to push back hard. All those who served â€” the Vietnam veterans who make up a huge portion of the V.A.'s clients and the Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who, after 10 years of war, are joining them â€” deserve the country's full support.