Staffing At Vet Centers Lagging

Staffing At Vet Centers Lagging
April 20th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Staffing At Vet Centers Lagging

Staffing At Vet Centers Lagging
USA Today
April 20, 2007
Pg. 1

Iraq, Afghan Wars Increase Clinic Use
By Gregg Zoroya, USA Today
WASHINGTON — The number of returning Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans visiting Department of Veterans Affairs walk-in clinics has more than doubled since 2004, while the clinics' staff has increased by less than 10%, agency records show.
The clinics, known as Vet Centers, are meant to make it easier for combat veterans to receive help. Last year, 21,681 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans visited the centers, up from 8,965 in 2004. The number of clinic staff members rose from 992 to 1,063 during the same period, according to the VA records.
A VA survey of clinic team leaders that the agency provided to USA TODAY on Thursday shows that 114 of the 209 Vet Centers need at least one extra psychologist or therapist to help with the influx of veterans. The VA is only slated to add 61 new staff.
Al Batres, the national director of Vet Center operations, says he will fill those additional slots over time. In addition, he says he has the budget to open 23 new centers across the country by September 2008, the end of the next budget year. He says the new centers will help serve the growing number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
"My task is to try to direct the right kind of services at the right time to the right place," Batres said.
The VA has consistently underestimated the needs of many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, says Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The Vet Centers are on the front lines," Davis says. "Every one of the 200-plus Vet Centers are providing a vital service, but our greatest concern is five years from now when more veterans and their families" enter the system.
The Vet Centers are small, storefront operations with a staff of four to five people each. The centers were created in 1979 to help Vietnam War veterans readjust to society. Services include combat-stress counseling, marriage therapy, job assistance and medical referrals.
Five of the clinics in the VA survey said they have people waiting in line for service. An informal survey last year by House Democratic staffers of 60 centers found that all reported significant increases in demand and about 10 reported using group therapy sessions, rather than individual counseling, to handle the increase. In the VA survey, only two of the clinics said shortages led them to substitute group therapy for more appropriate individual counseling.
Among the findings in the VA survey:
•Twenty-six centers said it takes longer to help veterans because of the increased workload.
•Twenty-two centers reported they cannot provide family counseling when necessary.
•Fifty-four centers said more sexual-trauma treatment is needed.
Batres has hired 100 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to help educate new veterans about services. Unlike clinic visits, which involve veterans meeting individually with staff members, many outreach efforts involve staffers speaking to groups of veterans.
Veterans of several wars use the centers, VA records show. In 2004, 125,737 veterans visited the centers or were contacted through outreach efforts; that number rose to 228,612 in 2006.
Last year, the White House proposed cutting $47 million from the $3.3 billion budget for veterans' readjustment benefits. Two congressional committees agreed, but the Republican-controlled Congress didn't pass a final spending bill. This year, Congress passed a resolution that keeps spending at the 2006 levels.

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