Tuesday, August 26, 2014

FIXING THE VETERANS’ MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama, weeks after signing legislation to fix delays in veterans' healthcare, will unveil a series of executive actions on Tuesday aimed at improving access to mental health treatment for former service members. He said service members leaving the military who are being treated for mental health conditions would now be automatically enrolled in a program in which mental health professionals help them move to VA care. (Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Ken Wills)

After spending eight months on a psychiatric ward on an Army base in Augusta, GA, I was hospitalized for the first time in a Veterans Hospital in Cincinnati.  That was in 1969.  I have been receiving services ever since that hospitalization.  I have some recommendations to make that our President probably will never make.

1) Ever VA mental health service center should have a grievance/human rights/incident committee that are made up of at least 51% of people receiving mental health services from that center not just people with lived experience, 20% family members of people receiving mental health services from that center and 10% from the people working at that mental health services centers. The rest of the committee should be recruited from the community so there is at least some transparency about what goes on at the different VA mental health centers. (When I refer to VA mental health centers, I mean the outpatient and inpatient services provided at VA hospitals and their attached clinics. Some are called Mental Health Centers and in some places they are just listed as Mental Health/Behavioral Services.)  

2) It should be made clear to every person the downside of utilizing the services of the Mental Health Division of a VA hospital.  The stigma will never leave you.  Honesty here would be a good policy. Instead it is presented as being as benign as going to primary care or to eye or dental clinic.  That simply is not the truth and mental health services should have to put a black label warning on their division just like they should fully explain any psych drug they try to get a veteran to swallow.

3) Full time Advocates not employed by the VA should be readily available to any veteran that is seen at a VA Mental Health Center.  These advocates should not be lawyers, but rather have a background in investigation and some tie to the mental health field.

4) The President should write an executive order that is in accord with the United Nations standards about forced treatment and say that there will be no more forced treatment or threat of forced treatment in the VA.  If President Obama did that, we could once again trust talking honestly with our mental health providers.  


© Ed Cooper, August 26, 2014, Stoney Creek, Tennessee 

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