Finding Texas Veterans the Mental Health Care They Need

Legacy Policy Paper | June 2016

 The Challenge

It remains a national tragedy that veterans are not getting the mental health care they need. Many veterans returning home – after protecting our freedoms and families – have severe mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress, depression, and substance abuse. Even after the 2014 scandal at a Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital where 14 veterans died waiting for care, and subsequent legislative efforts to fix the problems, the reality is veterans still lack proper access and timeliness to care.

Congressional Efforts, While Noble, Have Fallen Short

The Veterans Choice Act of 2014 sought to address concerns of fraud, reduce wait times, and allow veterans to seek care at non-VA, private health care facilities closer to home based on certain geographic criteria. Making more medical providers available to treat veterans at non-VA facilities was critical. But the backlog of veterans nationwide waiting more than 30 days for an appointment has grown to 550,000 from 300,000 since the Choice program began. In Houston, a VA Office of Inspector General report earlier this year substantiated claims that staff at VA Medical Center in Houston had manipulated wait times of its patients.

Let’s Really Fix the Problem: Community Health Centers

New legislation introduced in Congress this year — the Veterans Choice Improvement Act and the Care Veterans Deserve Act — seek to address ongoing issues that veterans continue to have with timely access to, and options for, care. Whatever bill becomes law, one thing has been made clear by the bipartisan House Appropriations Committee Report: Community health centers provide “high quality services” for veterans.  The report urges third-party contractors that administer the Veterans Choice program to improve their operations so more community health centers are able to serve more veterans.

Legacy Community Health is one of the nation’s largest health centers in the nation serving more than 100,000 patients in Houston, Beaumont, and Baytown. As a non-for-profit health care provider in Texas, which is home to 1.6 million veterans, Legacy applauds the current efforts in Congress to fix the access-to-care problem and hopes to see more veterans as patients more easily as soon as possible.