SOUTHERN PINES — The Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to improve mental-health care, reduce the wait for appointments and build more clinics and offices, a top official said Tuesday.
President Bush has proposed a budget to improve problems in the services the department offers, according to Patrick W. Dunne, the department’s assistant secretary for policy and planning.
Dunne spoke to members of the Sandhills Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America at the Belle Meade Retirement Resort in Southern Pines. About 75 people attended.
The retired admiral said Bush has requested $87 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dunne said a large chunk of that money is allocated for medical care. He alluded to revelations of problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and to problems at VA Hospitals around the country, then said the department is trying to fix what went wrong.
“The VA can and will do better in the future,” he said. “One failure is unacceptable.”
Dunne, who has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics, said part of his job is to use census data and other statistics to figure out where veterans live so the VA can determine where to build clinics and offices.
He said the VA sometimes struggles to link veterans with the services they need and said the department is planning to hire 100 patient advocates to help veterans navigate the system.
Ideally, he said, veterans would fill those jobs, “so that in essence, we would have veterans serving veterans.”
Dunne said the VA hopes to improve treatment for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
He said VA medical providers soon will be trained in recognizing brain injuries, and said the department plans to screen all soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for brain injuries.
He said the department is planning to move mental-health treatment into the VA’s primary care clinics, so that veterans can be treated for mental health problems at a primary care clinic.
“The fact is, VA is seeing more and more veterans with mental health syndromes,” he said.
Gary Geist, president of the Sandhills Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, said he asked Dunne to speak at Tuesday’s luncheon because he thinks it is important that veterans learn about the services available to them.
He said he wanted to encourage members of the Sandhills Chapter to support local VA centers.
Dunne said the department is evaluating its programs and trying to fill gaps in service.
“We want to anticipate what’s coming in the future,” he said. “And be ready when it gets here.”
Staff writer Laura Arenschield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3572.