GAO report: Spike in demand for VA mental health services

In the last 20 years, the nation’s armed forces have been pushed hard. The 9/11 terrorist attacks led to intensified American involvement in conflicts, the War on Terror, all over the world. Warfare—whether combat or lengthy and frequent postings far from friends, family and country—places powerful stresses on the body and the mind.

In the last 20 years, the nation’s armed forces have been pushed hard. The 9/11 terrorist attacks led to intensified American involvement in conflicts, the War on Terror, all over the world. Warfare—whether combat or lengthy and frequent postings far from friends, family and country—places powerful stresses on the body and the mind.

And not surprisingly, as a new Government Accountability Office report shows, along with these trends have come massive increases in mental health challenges and demands on Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services from the country’s servicemembers.

“Demand for VA’s mental health services has grown over time,” the report finds. “The number of veterans receiving mental health care from VA increased by 90 percent from fiscal year 2006 to 2019—more than three times the rate of increase for all VA health care services.”

Indeed, over the decade-and-a-half period, paralleling the country’s enduring military engagements abroad, the agency’s reported mental health budget increased from $2.4 billion to $8.9 billion.

About a third of the veterans seen by VA health professionals in FY 2018 suffered from at least one “diagnosed mental health condition,” according to the report. Most common among these were depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety—and frequently several such conditions were present. Despite greater resources applied to these problems in recent years, the report notes, suicide remains approximately 50 percent more common among vets than non-vets.

Nearly one-third of the federal government workforce are veterans, and federal employment remains a favorite direction for those who have served—making the rising mental health challenge faced by many veterans an important issue to feds and fed managers.

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