Protect Florida’s veterans

07/06/2014 7:00 PM

07/04/2014 3:17 PM

Florida is home to over 1.5 million veterans who deserve better than the culture that has permeated the VA, including months-long waits for appointments and falsified logs of wait times.

In Congress, legislation is moving through both chambers that would make needed reforms in the VA’s delivery of healthcare services. Our leaders in Washington, D.C., including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and Reps. Jeff Miller and Corrine Brown, have an opportunity to ensure that the significant mental-health needs of our veterans are not overlooked, and we urge them to seize this moment for comprehensive reform.

It’s well documented that veterans face significant challenges, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance-use disorders. These mental-health issues, sadly, too often, go undiagnosed or untreated. Most veterans simply do not receive adequate treatment for mental illness or substance-use disorders.

The scandal over wait times should not be tolerated. There is a persistent shortfall of psychiatric physicians in the VA system to meet the need. The Office of the Inspector General for the VA wrote in 2013 that the department’s “greatest challenge has been to hire and retain psychiatrists.” The VA, because of how current law is written, isn’t able to compete with other federal departments and private-sector employers in attracting talent. Employment incentives, like medical education loan repayment, are a potent recruitment tool for new hires, including psychiatrists.

The Ensuring Veterans’ Resiliency Act (HR 4234/S 2425) is bipartisan and was introduced by Reps. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., David Scott, D-Ga., and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. We strongly support it. It provides exactly the tool that the VA needs — implementation of a pilot project where the VA recruits a limited number of psychiatrists into long-term employment with competitive medical-school loan forgiveness incentives. This bill complements the VA reforms that Congress is now considering.

Congress has a chance to defend veterans by passing comprehensive reforms to the VA healthcare system. Their mental-health needs cannot and should not be overlooked, and a proper workforce is a part of delivering on that promise. EVRA does just that.

Rigoberto Rodriguez,

immediate past president,

Florida Psychiatric Society, Miami

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