Veterans Affairs Bungles Spending on New Mental Health Programs

By Maddy Sauer

Dec 5, 2006 1:53pm

The Department of Veterans Affairs did not allocate all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that was to go to additional mental health initiatives for veterans, nor did it follow how the money it did allocate was being used, according to a new report issued by the Government Accountability Office. In 2004, the Secretary of the VA approved a new mental health initiative to close the gaps in mental services available for veterans. "Some of the service gaps identified by the VA were in treating veterans with serious mental illness, female veterans, and veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan," according to the report. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Missing Marine Causes Security Alert During President’s Trip Wounded Vets Doing Well, But Payroll Problems Continue Click Here to Check Out the Latest Brian Ross Investigates Webcast on CIA Secret Prisons Following that plan, the VA said that $100 million in additional funds would be allocated for mental health services in 2005 and $200 million in 2006. According to the report, however, the VA failed to allocate millions of dollars of those additional funds two years in a row. In 2005, the report says, the VA failed to allocate $12 million of the $100 million because, according to the VA, "there was not enough time" to allocate the funds before the end of the fiscal year. The report also adds that some medical centers that received funds were also not able to spend them before the fiscal year ran out. Part of the problem, according to the GAO, is that the proposal process used to allocate funds to different medical centers is very time-consuming. "If they don’t start at the beginning of the year and do it aggressively, they just won’t have enough time to allocate all the funds," said Laurie Ekstrand, a director on the Health Care Team at GAO. "We were hoping they would have done better in ’06, but they just didn’t." In 2006, the reports says that $42 million of the $200 million that was supposed to be allocated for mental health funding never left the VA. One veterans’ group leader said today that there is an ongoing demand for mental health services that is not being met. "We know full-well the high demand for mental health services for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "This money was allocated to help meet that need, and it should be used as such. There are thousands of men and women who come home from war and are told they need to wait months for a counseling appointment at the VA. That is unacceptable." Another problem, according to the report, was that in some cases the medical centers were not instructed to spend the money that was allocated on the new mental health initiatives. "Some of this money could have been spent on mental health initiatives," said Ekstrand, "but if they weren’t told to do so, then it could have been spent on anything." The VA issued a statement saying the mental health care is amongst their highest priorities. "VA continues to develop new programs and enhance existing ones to support and treat the mental health care needs of our nation’s veterans. VA will also continue to work with Congress and other stakeholders to ensure the vital resources needed to support these programs are available and used wisely," said VA spokesman Matt Burns.

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