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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Commentary: VA Counselor and Funding Shortfalls a Problem for Returning Troops

A commentary from Monday's Kansas City Star by columnist Kathleen Parker, "Veterans deserve better mental health care":

The biggest problem is simply not enough qualified counselors and not enough government funding to meet current needs. Those needs have grown exponentially, as the number of vets seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues doubled from 4,467 to 9,103 between October 2005 and June 2006, according to a report last month by a House subcommittee. That’s just the beginning of the wave building now.

Even without additional funding, the Department of Defense could help by increasing access to mental health care for military personnel and their families. Individuals on TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program, can seek counseling from licensed practitioners only after referral from a primary physician.

A veteran’s wife testified before a VA committee last year that her husband, Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, was treated for everything from back pain to erectile dysfunction rather than PTSD. Pelkey finally was diagnosed properly by a civilian therapist — one week before he killed himself. There can be no more shameful legacy of any war than ignoring veterans’ needs. As Republicans and Democrats vow bipartisan cooperation, they have no greater priority than to simplify veterans’ access to mental health services.

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