Lack of Mental Health Services for Veterans

Thus far in our discussions of health and human rights I have noticed two things. The first, is that we often, unintentionally, fail to mention the human rights concern right here at home. The second, is that we have been discussing physical health concerns, while the rhetoric of the documents released by the various councils have mentioned that mental health concerns are just as important.

This week there was an article in the Washington Post regarding a hearing that took place due to the lack of assistance given to American veterans in dealing with mental health issues.

The big concern was that this neglect was coming from the very establishment that should be helping them. A whistleblower released information regarding how The Department of Veterans Affairs has been preoccupied with meeting certain quotas and performance standards for over a year and a half. Sometimes the hardest part of seeking a service is to admit that you need it to begin with. However, when a veteran were to do this, it would take on average about 50 days to meet with someone, rather than the recommended 14 days. The VA should cater to veteran’s request for an evaluation within two weeks, but was scheduling based on what was available, rather than need. What’s worse is that records indicate otherwise, as if the patients were seen within the time limit. Once patients were seen the facility holding the evaluations gave the most minimal level of service and saw more than the recommended number of veterans. The lack of attention leaves these veterans facing a higher risk of suicide, while the VA reports that about 18 veterans already commit suicide each day. Nicholas Tolentino, a former VA administrative official, had this to add:

“One manager directed the staff to focus only on the immediate reason for an appointment and not to ask the veteran about any other problems because “we don’t want to know or we’ll have to treat it.”

The VA is currently on their way to solving these issues by filling approximately 1,900 positions that will bring in more nurses, psychiatrists, and other mental health workers. It is especially important to do so as quickly as possible to ensure that the most recent veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have these services accessible to them.

This situation also highlights that access to health care is not always about the cost of pharmaceuticals, as we have identified in class. Here we have a clear problem of infrastructure and a lack of public health officials. It also reminds me of one of our initial questions regarding prisoner’s rights–whether or not they forfeit their human rights because they broke the law. While the answer is no, they do not forfeit their rights, the logic there makes some sense. From that I would have believed that a veteran, someone who has fought for their country, would have their human rights protected to the utmost standard. As we see this has not been the case.


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