Health risks challenging veterans, particularly those who have recently returned home from combat, is one of the topics of an upcoming conference for consumers and health care providers. The conference, “Better Health: It’s Your Health, Take Charge,” will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, June 3, at Foxwoods Resort Casino. CT Partners for Health, a coalition of dozens of stakeholders working to help consumers better understand health care, is organizing the event. Conference breakout sessions will address a wide range of topics, including caring for veterans. That discussion will focus on the health-related challenges veterans face after they return from combat zones.
The Army is not properly monitoring the prescribing of medications to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in active-duty soldiers to ensure that antipsychotics and sedatives are not being used, a new government report says. The report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends that the Secretary of Defense direct the Army to monitor prescribing practices in order to detect medications that are discouraged under PTSD treatment guidelines. Those guidelines caution against the use of antipsychotics and benzodiazepines, a class of sedatives, because of their ineffectiveness and potential risk. “The Army does not monitor the prescribing of medications to treat PTSD on an ongoing basis,” says the report, led by the GAO’s director of health care, Debra Draper. “Without such monitoring, the Army may be unable to identify and address practices that are inconsistent with the guideline.”
The Department of Defense did not dispute the GAO recommendations, but argued that it has worked to reduce antipsychotic prescribing.
A month before he left prison, Jeffrey Murdock, a veteran who suffers from depression and multiple sclerosis, thought his future would entail living as a patient in a state mental hospital. But Murdock’s outlook changed drastically after a Veterans Health Administration social worker met with him while he was still in prison, assessed him and arranged for him to receive an apartment, food, clothing and medical care upon his release. Murdock, 55, is one of 50 incarcerated veterans who have been have been helped since June by the VA jail release program, according to Michele Roberts, the social worker who runs it. Assistance includes housing, medical care, medications, and substance abuse treatment, all of which have helped the veterans avoid situations that put them at risk for re-arrest. Just two are back in jail and a third left the program, Roberts said.
Two programs that connect arrested veterans to treatment – rather than jail – report that many are getting their lives back on track. Some 81 percent of veterans in the program run by the Veterans Health Administration have not been arrested again. And one run by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services shows a 36 percent drop in illegal drug use among its veterans and a 44 percent decrease in symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “So many people are getting what they really need, which is treatment and not incarceration,” said Laurie Harkness, the VA program director. “It’s making such a difference in so many veterans’ lives.”
The programs, designed to help veterans with mental health and substance abuse problems, operate in courts statewide, where social workers reach out to arrested veterans to let them know about treatment options for PTSD, anger management, and addictions, among other illnesses.
Alarmed by a new report that found gaps in the VA’s follow-up care of suicidal veterans discharged from Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facilities, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy is asking the VA to “act as quickly as possible” to reduce the risk of suicide. In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki — prompted by a Wednesday news story about the VA Office of Inspector General’s report — Murphy said he had “deep concern” about the findings of deficiencies in follow-up care for veterans who are discharged from inpatient mental health facilities. “As you know, suicide is now the leading cause of death among military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as many as 22 veterans take their own lives every day,” Murphy wrote. “Given this stark reality, the fact that the VA is not monitoring veterans who are at a high risk of suicide is not acceptable.”
Murphy requested that the VA provide him with a comprehensive overview of the improvements it plans to make to reduce suicide rates. He praised Shinseki for focusing on the “epidemic” of veteran suicides, but said the new report “suggests that we still have a lot more work to do.
Nearly a third of veterans deemed at high risk for suicide don’t receive the recommended follow-up care after they’ve been discharged from Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facilities, according to a new report from the VA inspector general. The report — which comes as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grapples with a rise in suicides that claim an estimated 22 veterans’ lives a day — recommends that the VA take action to improve post-discharge follow-up for patients with acute mental health problems.
The VA requires its mental health clinicians to evaluate patients considered at high risk for suicide at least weekly for the 30 days after their discharge from Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health care. But of 215 patients whose medical records were examined by the inspector general’s office, 65, or 30 percent, did not receive all of their follow-up evaluations, the report shows. Records of 33 percent of the 215 patients did not contain documentation that a suicide-prevention coordinator or other case manager had made attempts at contact. “Although MH (mental health) providers scheduled follow-up appointments prior to patient discharge, timely post-discharge MH evaluations were not consistently provided,” the report says.