WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than three months after a report was released from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) following Senator Joni Ernst’s (R-IA) request for an investigation into the VA Central Iowa Health Care System’s mental health care programs and treatment provided to veteran Richard Miles, it remains unclear as to whether any of the recommended changes have been implemented. After the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) neglected to reply to an initial closed letter from Senator Ernst, she has now sent a follow up letter demanding answers about the needed changes for veterans across Iowa.

In the follow up letter, Senator Ernst wrote, “On June 24, 2015, I wrote a letter to you requesting that VHA expedite implementation of a number of VA OIG recommendations to improve the delivery of mental health care and case management services for our veterans.  Specifically, as recommended by VA OIG in Report Number 15-02627-386, I requested VHA expedite a determination of the feasibility of expanding recovery coordination activities to patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to improve case management services at VA and to hold Veterans Integrated Service Network Directors accountable for providing all levels of case management in accordance with VHA policy.”

Senator Ernst continued, “According to the October 1, 2014 – March 31, 2015 VA OIG Semiannual Report to Congress (SAR), there are a total of 1,162 unimplemented Office of Inspector General (OIG) recommendations which have been provided to the VA.  Disturbingly, more than 1,000 of these unimplemented OIG recommendations are with VHA. This is unacceptable.”

“…I remain concerned about the efforts VA has put forth to address the mental health of the men and women who so honorably served our country,” the Senator added. “…I once again urge you to act without delay on the VA OIG’s recommendations to improve services at VHA for our veterans.”

Read the full letter here.

Senator Ernst’s request comes in response to the untimely death of veteran Richard Miles from Des Moines, which prompted the Iowa Senator to call for an investigation into the VA Central Iowa Health Care System’s mental health care programs and the treatment sought and received by Mr. Miles. The VA OIG identified areas that need to be improved and those recommend changes must be implemented without further delay.  

Timeline of Efforts to Improve Mental Health Care for Iowa Veterans

  • On February 23, 2015, Senator Ernst sent a letter to the VA OIG requesting an examination of the VA Central Iowa Health Care System’s mental health programs. The inquiry follows recent news coverage of the death of veteran Richard Miles in Des Moines.
  • On March 4, 2015, the VA OIG provided an update regarding Senator Ernst’s request for an examination of the VA Central Iowa Health Care System’s mental health programs. Senator Ernst’s inquiry followed news coverage of the death of veteran Richard Miles in Des Moines. The Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s office initiated a review of the mental health care provided to Richard Miles.
  • On March 23, 2015, Senator Ernst introduced her first piece of legislation, the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act. This legislation provides an option for veterans to receive immediate mental health treatment, until they can receive comprehensive treatment at the VA. It also prioritizes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the VA.
  • On June 3, 2015, Senator Ernst highlighted the critical need for a permanent VA Inspector General. At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Senator Ernst expressed her disappointment that she has yet to receive an update from the Veterans Affairs Inspector General’s office which said months ago that they initiated a review of the mental health care provided to Richard Miles, an Army and Iraq War veteran who committed suicide in Des Moines, Iowa.
  • On June 10, 2015, Senator Ernst released a statement after receiving the report from the office of the VA OIG.
  • On June 24, 2015, Senator Ernst sent a letter urging the VA to “act without delay on the VA OIG’s recommendations to improve services at VHA for our veterans.” And requested a written response by no later than July 13, 2015.
  • On July 13, 2015, Senator Ernst had still not received a response from the VA. She still has not received a response.
  • On September 22, 2015, Following Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing where Senator Ernst stressed the urgent need for timely, quality mental health care for veterans, Ernst sent a follow up letter pressing the VA to immediately implement the “VA OIG’s recommendations to improve services at VHA for our veterans.”

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