Source: Sioux City Journal

“There is no acceptable VA wait time for mental health care treatment for our veterans."

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst

On average, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, says, a veteran waits 36 days for a Veterans Affairs mental health appointment.

In what is her first Senate bill, Ernst seeks to improve what is a far-too-large number (U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is a co-sponsor of the bill).

As we have similar efforts by Congress to reduce wait times for veterans in need of medical care, we support passage of Ernst's Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act of 2015, which awaits consideration by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Essentially, the bill would make it easier for veterans to, if necessary, get mental health care outside the VA system.

The bill:

  • Allows a veteran instant authorization of non-VA care if the veteran can show he or she is not receiving adequate or timely mental health care through the VA.
  • Eliminates a requirement veterans must live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility or have waited longer than 30 days before accessing non-VA mental health care.
  • Prioritizes incentives for the hiring of more VA mental health care professionals.

Last year, stories of appalling wait times for veterans seeking care at VA facilities in multiple states led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and got the attention of Congress. To its credit, Congress passed legislation designed to reduce wait times. Among provisions, the legislation appropriated money for private health care outside the VA system for veterans who face long wait times at VA facilities and money for hiring more doctors and nurses within the VA system.

Still, more work is necessary, as evidenced by the average 36-day wait time for veterans who want mental health care.

One of the reasons we supported and endorsed Ernst in November was we felt confident she would advocate in strong fashion for America's veterans. By taking the lead on the important issue of access to mental health care for vets, Ernst is proving to be just such a voice.

Our veterans deserve to see Ernst's legislation become law.


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