Report Says VA's Spending Too Slow

December 5th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Report Says VA's Spending Too Slow

USA Today
December 5, 2006
Pg. 4

$100M for mental health wasn't used
By Gregg Zoroya, USA TODAY
The Department of Veterans Affairs is too slow to spend the money it budgeted to treat the mental health needs of veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a Congressional study released Monday.
The VA budgeted $300 million in fiscal 2005-06 for new mental health initiatives but spent only $200 million, according to the study by the Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress.
The study also found that the VA had little or no way of tracking spending for new mental health initiatives during those two years, and that some of the money it spent might not have gone toward mental health programs.
The VA took issue with the findings. “Unfortunately, the GAO chose to look at the plan as an accounting exercise, focusing primarily on how many dollars are spent,” said Matt Burns, VA spokesman. Mental health funds were spent on new initiatives, but Burns said the VA spent money only on programs that met its standards.
VA officials planned to place at least some of the unspent money in a reserve fund to be used in fiscal year 2007, the GAO study says.
“We are taking some time,” VA executive Gerald Cross told a House subcommittee Sept. 28. “But we want to make sure it's spent right.”
The $300 million in 2005-06 funding came in response to a 2004 VA plan to correct gaps in a variety of areas. Among them: early assistance for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from combat stress; mental health treatment programs for a growing number of female veterans; and rehabilitation programs for veterans with serious mental illnesses.
“Without the commitment to fully fund the mental health care proposals … improvements in VA's mental health services will not be achieved,” Rep. Mike Michaud, ranking Democrat for a Veterans Health subcommittee, wrote in a letter last week to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson.
Michaud cited statistics showing that the VA saw almost 18,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during fiscal 2006; the VA had anticipated 2,900 cases.
The VA provides health care to more than 5 million patients, including veterans and their families. It treats homeless veterans, veterans with serious mental illnesses and combat veterans for conditions such as depression, PTSD and substance-abuse problems.
A 2003 Army study showed that 17% of soldiers from combat units were diagnosed with such conditions as PTSD or major depression.

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