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Calif. VA Health Systems Struggling To Meet Mental Health Demand

Department of Veterans Affairs health systems in California and other states are struggling to address a spike in the number of veterans seeking mental health treatment after returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, KPCC's "KPCC News" reports.

Increasing Demand in Calif.

The VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System saw a 40% increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health treatment between 2007 and 2013. During that same period, the VA Long Beach Healthcare System saw a 60% increase in the number of veterans seeking mental health treatment.

Officials with the Los Angeles system said they have boosted the number of psychiatrists and psychologists on staff by nearly 12% in recent years to address the increased demand.

Similarly, Lawrence Albers, chief of mental health for VA Long Beach, said the facility is increasing staff and programs and "really doing whatever [it] can to meet the needs of the returning combat veterans." He said the Long Beach system has added about 100 mental health care staff members since 2005.

Some Veterans Sent to Safety-Net Facilities for Care

Some VA facilities also have begun referring veterans to not-for-profit groups for care, "KPCC News" reports. For example, The Soldiers Project was intended to act as a mental health safety-net facility for veterans. It received 65 referrals from VA in 2013, and nearly as many in just the first six months of this year.

Judith Broder, founder of The Soldiers Project, said the increase likely has to do with "the fact that the VA is completely overwhelmed." She added, "They can't provide what they've been tasked to provide" because "[t]here aren't enough people, there's not enough time" (Plevin, "KPCC News," KPCC, 6/27).

This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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