As part of a national mandate from President Obama to hire 1,600 new mental health professionals in the veterans’ health system, the VA Pittsburgh Health System has hired 30 new mental health professionals plus an additional 14 to fill existing vacancies.
“I think it’s obvious that if we have more people offering service, then more people could obtain services and obtain them quicker,” said Jeffrey Peters, associate chief of staff for behavior health at the VA Pittsburgh.
The VA Pittsburgh treats about 66,000 people currently, about 25 percent more veterans than 10 years ago. Peters said adding more mental health professionals is a critical part of addressing the needs of vets and added the specialty provided by VA systems is unparalleled.
“VA, I think, does a much better job than health care providers outside of VA in trying to do screening and early detection and early recognition of problems like depression, alcohol misuse or abuse, problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, problems like mild traumatic brain injury,” Peters said.
That, he said, is because mental health professionals working with veterans know what to look for.
“Many people have unrecognized or undiagnosed conditions for which help is possibly available but can only be offered if these concerns are recognizes and if the individual with these challenges has access to care,” he said.
In addition to hiring more mental health professionals, VA systems throughout the US are working to expand the reach of services through tele-medicine. The VA expects to increase the number of veterans served from rural or underserved areas through such technology.