Military affairs beat: VA adds mental health staffers

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • June 19, 2012 - 6:06 PM

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been authorized to hire up to 24 additional staff to beef up its mental health operations, part of a nationwide effort by the VA to address concerns that veterans are not getting the mental health attention they deserve. Nationally the VA is trying to quickly hire 1,600 mental health professionals.

The Minneapolis VA Health Care System employs 265 mental health clinicians, support staff and trainees and will be adding 21 clinicians and three support staff. The VA said it anticipates the majority will be hired locally within about six months and the most hard-to-fill positions filled by the end of the second quarter of fiscal year 2013.

Veterans seen by the Minneapolis hospital's mental health unit rose 23 percent in the past five years. Staffing of the unit is up 22 percent. At the state's other VA hospital in St. Cloud, the number of veterans seen for mental health issues grew by almost 30 percent since 2006.

Figures provided by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office show that St. Cloud staffing will grow by seven clinicians and two support staff. The VA's Fargo facility, where a number of Minnesota veterans in northern Minnesota receive care, will increase by the same amount.

An inspector general's report released this year faulted the VA for caring more about performance goals than helping veterans in need of care. The report said the VA lacked a reliable and accurate method of determining whether it is providing patients timely mental health care. The VA announced it was adding jobs across the country. But the VA already has about 1,500 vacancies in mental health jobs, mostly in regions whee positions are hard to fill.

Last year, the VA provided mental health services to 1.3 million veterans. Since 2009, the VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. Since 2007, the VA has seen a 35 percent rise in the number of veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434

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