Thursday, October 19, 2006

Vet centers under pressure

Treatment staffs strive to cope with rising caseloads resulting from Afghan and Iraqi wars.
By DAVID GOLDSTEIN
The Star’s Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON A network of community-based, walk-in veterans treatment centers is under increasing pressure as more and more former troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have come looking for help.

A report to be issued today by the Democratic staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee says that nearly a third of all Vet Centers have seen the demand rise for outreach and other services.

The report surveyed 60 of the 207 Vet Centers operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It found that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have sought help for post-traumatic stress disorder doubled — from nearly 4,500 to more than 9,000 — from Oct. 2005 through June 2006.

The number of veterans with other types of mental-health and readjustment problems also doubled, and in some cases tripled.

Half of the Vet Centers sampled reported that expanding caseloads had affected their ability to treat their clientele.

“The administration’s failure to increase staffing and other resources for Vet Centers has put their capacity to meet the needs of veterans and their families at risk,” the report said.
The study was released to reporters Wednesday afternoon, and efforts to contact the VA for comment were unsuccessful. It was unclear when the VA received the report.

“The Vet Centers’ staff are dedicated and deeply committed to meeting the needs of veterans and their families, but without additional resources, even dedicated staff has limits,” said Democratic Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine, the House VA Committee member who requested the report.

The report is the result of a confidential survey of Vet Center staffs. The committee’s Democratic staff contacted a sample of 64 centers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sixty centers responded.

The centers were created in 1979 to be accessible, storefront clinics where veterans could be seen almost immediately by a staff largely composed of combat veterans.
Other findings

•40 percent of the Vet Centers sampled have sent veterans with readjustment issues who should be receiving individualized therapy into group therapy.
•30 percent said they need more staff.
•25 percent could cut services and create waiting lists.
•20 percent said they have either limited or no capability to provide counseling or therapy for families dealing with a veteran suffering from PTSD or other mental-health problems.

To reach David Goldstein, call 1-(202) 383-6105, or send email to dgoldstein@ mcclatchydc.com.

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