VA Faces Psychiatrist Shortage Despite Spending Billions, OIG Finds
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not employ enough full-time psychiatrists, and those on staff are not using their time effectively, according to a report released by VA's Office of Inspector General, the Wall Street Journal reports. The findings come despite VA's multibillion-dollar investment into improving mental health care.
VA in 2012 unveiled an effort to hire 1,600 mental health professionals, which included increasing pay scales to boost recruitment. The initiative came after a report released that year found wait times for psychiatry appointments were longer than one month. In addition, the report noted VA had a high number of vacancies for psychiatrists.
In 2014, VA Secretary Robert McDonald announced an additional hiring initiative as part of a broader VA reform measure (Kesling, Wall Street Journal, 8/25).
VA's OIG found that VA psychiatrist appointments have increased by 10% since 2012, while the agency's spending on psychiatrists has increased by about 15%, indicating waste, the Washington Times reports.
According to the report, VA health clinics prioritized meeting broad hiring goals instead of hiring a sufficient number of mental health professionals (Shastry, Washington Times, 8/25). Further, VA's OIG noted that VA has not developed effective hiring goals, nor has it developed a system that effectively manages psychiatrists (Wall Street Journal, 8/25).
In addition, the report noted that, at several clinics, psychiatrists performed duties other than providing patient care. According to the report, about one-quarter of VA facilities could have better used psychiatrists' clinical time to care for veterans during fiscal year 2014. The mismanaged time accounted for almost $113.5 million in psychiatrists' salaries. VA's OIG wrote, "Over the next five years, this clinic time not used for patient care would equate to over $567 million if clinic management is not strengthened now" (Washington Times, 8/25).
VA concurred with the findings and said it already has started to address the issue by:
- Requiring mental health providers to meet certain productivity targets; and
- Creating staffing benchmarks for VA facilities (Wall Street Journal, 8/25).