(July 10, 2012) Suppose there was money for mental illness treatment but not enough professionals to deliver it.
A retired Army general, a Brookings Institution fellow and a prominent attorney suggest this may be happening to returning war veterans, whose unmet mental health treatment needs are so unmet that one appeals court panel called their non-treatment “incompetent” and “unconstitutional” (“We Needed the Veterans--Now They Need Us,” Wall Street Journal, July 6).
“(T)he government has been trying to hire enough psychologists, psychiatrists and claims processors to address the patient backlog,” according to co-authors Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings, Gen. Jack Keane (US Army, Ret.) and attorney Robert M. Morgenthau of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
But providers aren’t signing up, the co-authors say, either because they already have private practices or because they don’t want to work for the government. The writers note that the Department of Veterans Affairs budget nearly tripled from $47 billion to $125 billion after 9/11. The suggestion is that the funding exists to treat suffering veterans and their families, but the personnel don’t.
In the op-ed, the writers call for a “private-public partnership” to engage the personnel needed to meet the mental health needs of the returning soldiers, but any such effort could fast hit a barrier that civilians with mental illness already know only too well: The severe, national shortage of psychiatrists, which is only going to get worse.
For details on this rising barrier to treatment posed by shrinking psychiatric ranks, read “Why there’s not a doctor in the house.”
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