Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced the department would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce. VA estimates that 30 clinicians and 6 support personnel will be hired to support mental health operations at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. Funding has now been distributed to the San Antonio VA facility and recruitment is underway.
VA has an existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff that includes nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. Currently, 310 mental health clinicians and support staff work locally supporting about 100,000 Veterans.
With each additional mental health care provider, a facility could potentially reach hundreds more Veterans battling mental illness. New providers will join a team that is already actively treating Veterans through individualized care, readjustment counseling, and immediate crisis services. Additional staff members also afford opportunities to look long-term and expand into cutting edge Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) research and to explore alternative therapies.
Secretary Shinseki noted that “as the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning Veterans.”
VA anticipates the majority of mental health clinicians and support staff will be hired locally within approximately six months and the most hard-to-fill positions filled by the end of the second quarter of FY 2013. To speed the hiring process, VA developed the Mental Health Hiring Initiative to improve marketing, recruitment, and hiring efforts for mental health professionals so that the new 1,600 mental health providers can be hired as quickly as possible. The initiative is an aggressive, multi-faceted, sustained national marketing and outreach campaign that includes targeted recruitment of mental health providers willing to take positions in rural and highly rural markets, as well as throughout the nation to serve all VA medical centers and community clinics.
“Mental health services must be closely aligned with Veterans’ needs and fully integrated with health care facility operations,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. “Improving access to mental health services will help support the current and future Veterans who depend on VA for these vital services.”
Last year, VA provided quality, specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans. Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent. Since 2007, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.