Soldiers on patrol in Iraq. (Photo: U.S. Army)
In a final decision five years in the making, a federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled Monday that the courts lack jurisdiction to order changes in the way the Veterans Administration handles mental health claims.
As the San Francisco Chronicle reports:
Two veterans groups said in a 2007 lawsuit that the VA had made mental health care virtually unavailable to thousands of discharged soldiers through perfunctory exams, long waits for referrals and treatment, and a prolonged medical benefits process in which vets can’t hire lawyers.
At a trial in 2008, Department of Veterans Affairs documents showed that the system took an average of 4.4 years to review veterans’ health care claims, that more than 1,400 veterans who had been denied coverage died in one six-month period while their appeals were pending, and that 18 veterans per day were committing suicide, much higher than the rate among the general population. Continue reading
The need for mental health services among veterans has increased 35% since 2007. (Getty Images)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will add 1,600 mental health clinicians and 300 support staff to veterans hospitals across the country to help contend with the rising demand for mental health care among returning veterans. That’s an almost 10% increase in mental health staff and is sorely needed at hospitals that can’t keep up with the requests for appointments. In some places, wait time for care is much longer than the VA’s 14 day policy, the subject of a report by the department’s inspector general to be released next week.
Northern California may be faring slightly better than the rest of the country on mental health issues. “In Northern California we have many veterans coming back. We also have a lot of staff,” said Robin Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System. “We’ve tripled our mental health staff in the last 4 years. So we many be ahead of the curve,” she added. Jackson said that staff in Northern California realized that traumatic brain injury and other mental trauma would be the most common illnesses in returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, so they ramped up their staffing to meet the need. Continue reading
Veterans with PTSD are more likely than other vets to be prescribed opioid drugs for pain relief. (Photo: Jupiter Images)
Across the country, there’s been a greater understanding of treating pain. The prescription of opioid pain relievers–drugs like codeine, vicodin or morphine–has nearly doubled since 1994. But at the same time, prescription opioid abuse, overdose and death has also increased dramatically. The same trends are true for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Today, due to medical advances and improvements in combat protective gear, higher numbers of veterans of these wars are surviving injuries. But once home, they continue to suffer both pain and mental health problems. They are often prescribed opioid pain relievers.
But little has been known about mental health disorders and the prescribing of opioids to veterans. Researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and UCSF set out to address this question and found that veterans with mental health problems were more likely to be prescribed opioid drugs than veterans without mental health issues. Continue reading
Residents voting on improvements to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center at public meeting in Carson last October. (Photo: Anabell Romero)
Editor’s Note: KQED produces ouRXperience, a blog from community correspondents, to enrich coverage of health issues across California.
Recently, ouRXperience featured posts from four California communities:
- Patricia Carrillo in Salinas wrote about local reaction to the lawsuit challenging the state’s approval of the fumigant methyl iodide to use on strawberry crops.
- From Wilmington, Anabell Romero, described how community members are contributing to the Master Plan for the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center renovation.
- Changvang Her told about the challenges of providing mental health care in the Merced Hmong community where “mental health” translates to “damaged brain.”
- and from San Bernardino, Bobbi Albano brought us the story of a free dental clinic and how one man got the help he needed.
Over 130,000 Vietnamese people relocated to Santa Clara County since the end of the Vietnam War. (Photo: Monica M. DaveyAFP/Getty Images)
The first wave of Vietnamese refugees came to the San Jose area in the 1980s, after the fall of Saigon. Now San Jose has the largest Vietnamese population of any city in the country. Santa Clara County is also second largest of any county in the U.S., after Orange County.
Today, Santa Clara released its first-ever Vietnamese health assessment to get a better understanding of this growing population’s health needs.
Health Officer Martin Fenstersheib says Santa Clara County didn’t have a good understanding of what the health needs of its Vietnamese community were prior to this report.
“We had a great interest in doing this because we tend to lump all of our statistics together, especially in the Asian, Pacific Island community. So things are reported that way also.”
Vietnamese adults have the highest mortality rates for liver cancer, more than four times higher than other county residents.
Three top health concerns are highlighted in the report: access to health care and health insurance, stigma related to getting mental health services, and cancer — particularly liver cancer related to Hepatitis B. Fenstersheib says the report recommends creating a task force to focus on reducing these health disparities.
17 percent of unmarried women with children report having mental health problems, according to a recent UCLA study. ((Photo: Getty Images)
More than two million adults in California say they need mental health care, but about half of them aren’t getting it, according to a report released Wednesday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
California mandates health insurance companies provide equal care for mental and physical health problems. But mental health services are often inadequate–or they don’t exist at all, says lead author David Grant.
One reason is when hospitals want to cut costs, mental health care is often the first to go. Grant notes that, just this morning, LA’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced it is cutting most of its psychiatric services.
“It’s a disaster,” Grant said about Cedars-Sinai’s closing. “Health care is undergoing so much change and it’s under so much financial stress right now. Providers are really looking for ways to reduce health care costs.”