Veteranclaims’s Blog

April 28, 2012

VAOIG Report 12-00900-168, VA Mental Health Appointment Times Not Accurate

Full article at: Report: VA overstates how fast it provides mental health care to veterans

By Steve Vogel,

The Department of Veterans Affairs has greatly overstated how quickly it provides mental-health care for veterans, according to an inspector general’s report released Monday.

Contrary to VA claims that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental-health care in 2011 received an evaluation within the department’s goal of 14 days, just under half were seen in that time frame, the report found. A majority waited about 50 days on average for a full evaluation.

A similar claim that 95 percent of new patients in 2011 got appointments to begin treatment within 14 days of their desired date was also far off the mark; the report from the VA Office of Inspector General estimated that 64 percent of patients did; the rest waited on average 40 days.
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VAOIG Report: Review of Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care
Report Link: http://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-12-00900-168.pdf
Report Number: 12-00900-168

Summary: Congress and the VA Secretary requested the OIG determine how accurately the Veterans Health Administration records wait times for mental health services for both new patients and established patients visits and if the wait time data VA collects is an accurate depiction of the veteran’s ability to access those services. VHA policy requires all first-time patients referred to or requesting mental health services receive an initial evaluation within 24 hours and a more comprehensive diagnostic and treatment planning evaluation within 14 days. The primary goal of the initial 24-hour evaluation is to identify patients with urgent care needs and to trigger hospitalization or the immediate initiation of outpatient care when needed.

One method VHA uses to monitor access to mental health services is to calculate patients’ waiting times by measuring the elapsed days from the desired dates of care to the dates of the treatment appointments. Medical facility schedulers must enter the correct desired dates of care in the system to ensure the accuracy of this measurement. VHA’s goal is to see patients within 14 days of the desired dates of care.
VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointment As a result, performance measures used to report patient’s access to mental health care do not depict the true picture of a patient’s waiting time to see a mental health provider.
The Under Secretary for Health concurred with the OIG’s findings and recommendations and stated VHA is unequivocally committed to providing Veterans the best care possible.

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