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Senate Testimony and IG Report Reveal that the VA Inflated Success Rate of Meeting Veterans’ Mental Health Care Needs

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On April 23, 2012, representatives from the Veterans Administration (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and former employee from the VA hospital in Manchester testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee about a recent report that showed that the VA inflated its success rate in treating veterans with mental health needs. The report included testimony from Nicholas Tolentino, a former mental health administrator, who said that the VA culture encourages administrators to game performance metrics and tamper with results of VA-wide surveys.

Tolentino and a panel of VA officials discussed the findings of the IG report, which showed that the VA overstated how quickly it serves veterans in need of mental healthcare. The report revealed that in 2011, only forty-nine percent of all new patients received a full mental health evaluation within the department’s required time period of fourteen days, but the VA’s 2011 Performance and Accountability Report stated that ninety-five percent had received the evaluation within the required time period. In addition, the investigation found that only sixty-four percent of patients began treatment within 14 days of their desired start date, while the VA reported that 95 percent had done so.

Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Senator Patty Murray had originally requested the IG investigation, and she called the report “substantial and troubling.” In response, William Schoenhard, VA Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Operations and Management, said the VA concurs with the IG’s findings and has instituted a number of changes to address the issues.  “The explanations for the [IG’s] findings are varied, none are satisfactory — we must do more to deliver the mental health services that veterans need,” Schoenhard said.

The VA announced that it will hire 1,900 mental health care staff members, including 1,600 practitioners. In addition, the Agency will also hire family therapists and mental health counselors. The VA is also conducting an extensive internal review of its mental health operations has promised to take proper action to address the concerns raised in the IG’s report.

The Employment Law Group® law firm has an extensive nationwide whistleblower practice representing employees who have been victims of retaliation for reporting fraud or improper practices.

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