During the past three years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has initiated a new planning process called CARES – Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services. Through CARES, the VA is evaluating the health care services it provides, identifying the best ways to meet veterans’ future health care needs, and realigning its medical facilities and services to meet those needs more effectively and efficiently.
The Comission overseeing the CARES process has been holding hearings over the last two months around the country to obtain input into their planning process. NAMI representatives from the Veterans Committee have testified at these hearings and NAMI National presented formal testimony to the CARES Commission on October 7, 2003 in Washington DC. The CARES Commission is holding hearings through October 17, 2003 and then will begin the process of developing final recommendations.
In FY 2000, out of the 192,982 veterans who were treated for a severe mental illness, only 19.7% received treatment in an inpatient setting. NAMI is very concerned that those veterans who need inpatient care are unable to access needed treatment because of limited inpatient beds. Decisions to close a psychiatric service at one or more centers have frequently resulted in unintended hardships for veterans trying to remain compliant with their outpatient regimen of appointments and medications. Results are predictable: more frequent relapses and homelessness.If several hospitals are scheduled to close, NAMI is very concerned about the hardships that veterans with serious mental illness will have to endure if they are forced to travel long distances to obtain needed treatment.
Further, the VA needs to be held accountable for its inability to ensure that savings derived from the closure of inpatient psychiatric beds is transferred into community-based treatment services. From NAMI’s perspective, it is obvious that this significant decrease in inpatient care has not resulted in a sufficient transfer of resources to community-based treatment and supports for veterans with severe mental illnesses.
NAMI feels strongly that the VA must do more to maintain capacity for veterans with severe and chronic mental illness and the lack of access to treatment and community supports for veterans with severe mental illness is one of the greatest unmet needs in the VA.
You may contact your representatives about this issue directly with NAMI's online advocacy tool and sample letter.
In addition to contacting your legislative representatives, please send a communication to:Richard Larson
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