Today, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill allowing veterans to bypass the VA and seek care at other medical facilities when they experience long wait times, and the Senate is working on a similar bill. Here locally, an internal veteranâ??s affairs audit identified Amarillo as having one of the worst wait times for mental health services.
Timely accessibility for mental health services has been a priority for the VA, as they estimate that 22 veterans a day take their own lives. While Amarillo ranked one of the worst in the nation for wait times, according to the VAâ??s own calculation, the Chief of Mental Health services at the local VA told Pronews 7 that these statistics are misleading and do not reflect actual wait times.
The Amarillo VA says that internal data collection is unintentionally categorizing existing patients as new patients, especially when they are scheduled into new clinics. According to the audit, the wait time for new patients was estimated at 61 days, but the VA says that in many cases this reflects the average time between visits and a veteran may not experience an interruption of care, but that the system
â??That is a misleading number,â?? said Dr. Lambert, a Psychiatrist and the Chief of Mental Health Services at the Amarillo VA Hospital. â??What is caught up in that is veterans that have been scheduled in to mental health who were already established that already had a complete evaluation some of them had already been in our care 15 or 20 years.â??
Dr. Lambert says that according to his systemâ??s calculations, the actual wait time for mental health services is closer to eight days, and that there have been aggressive efforts to expand capacity at the VA with mental health professionals working alongside many other specialties all over the hospital.