Dr. Bucshon introduces bill to increase access to psychiatric care for veterans

Mar 18, 2014 Issues: Healthcare, Veterans

Last week, Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (R-IN) joined his colleague Congressman David Scott (D-GA) to introduce H.R. 4234, the Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act, a bipartisan bill to improve psychiatric care in military and veteran communities.

“Many of the brave men and women who have served our country are returning home without proper attention to their mental health needs,” said Congressman Bucshon, M.D.  “During my career as a physician and my time working at the VA, I’ve seen first-hand the need for new dedicated methods that encourage more psychiatrists to choose a career helping veterans. Our veterans have made tremendous sacrifices for this country and I firmly believe we should do everything in our power to support them. This legislation is a good first step that will help hire many qualified psychiatrists across the country to provide our veterans the assistance they need and deserve.”  

“Too many of American’s veterans are experiencing a mental health crisis without adequate assistance from the VA.  In Georgia, several disturbing incidents of veteran suicide have been exposed,” Congressman Scott said.  “Testimony from the VA and Inspector General reports have pointed out that not enough psychiatrists are employed by the system to meet these needs.  We can certainly improve on these hiring trends and I hope that this pilot project will bring new emphasis on attracting and maintaining psychiatrists in the system.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) provided their support and endorsement of H.R. 4234.

“This legislation will help ensure that our nation’s veterans, who often face significant mental health challenges, have access to much needed high quality mental health care,” said APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, MD.

APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, MPA, added, “Given that the acute mental health needs of our veterans will be ongoing for years to come, APA strongly supports this legislation.  APA commends Representatives Bucshon and Scott for their leadership on this issue and their commitment to ensuring the resiliency of all of our nation’s veterans.”

BACKGROUND:

The Challenges we face:

  • 40% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  • Anxiety, depression, and substance use are widely experienced by veterans of all ages

  • Approximately 6,000 veterans commit suicide each year

  • The Office of Inspector General (OIG) in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) lacks “a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health services”

  • OIG reports that VHA’s “greatest challenge has been to hire and retain psychiatrists” 

  • Congressional testimony given by current and former psychiatric physicians in the VHA highlights low pay, inadequate training, and long hiring processes as key barriers to developing and maintaining a robust psychiatric workforce

  • Current policy makes it extremely difficult for the VHA to compete with other Federal agencies and private entities in offering employment incentives, such as medical school loan repayment, to new hires

  • According to USAjobs.gov on September 17, 2013, there were 142 federal job vacancies for psychiatrists listed on the website.  Of those, 138 were for the VHA and 128 were for permanent VA hires.  Of the 128 permanent VHA positions, only 33 (25%) were eligible for medical school loan repayment

The Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act, increases access to mental healthcare to veterans by:

  • Establishes a three-year demonstration program under the VA modeled on the Department of Defense Health Professions Loan Repayment Program, which offers physicians up to $60,000 in medical school loan repayment for each year of service.

  • Authorizes the VA to recruit at least five psychiatric physicians into the loan repayment program each year. The VA would hire these physicians permanently to fill full-time vacant positions.

  • Requires the program participants to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the VA

  • Requires a report to Congress on the program’s impact on psychiatric vacancies and recruitment.

  • Authorizes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on pay disparities between psychiatric physicians at the VA.

  • Full text of H.R. 4234 can be accessed here.