Letter to Editor: Veterans’ Health Care

New York Times

To the Editor, New York Times:

As a former Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters project manager who monitored returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, I agree with Paul Krugman’s comment that the V.A. is a stunning success for quality medical care (”Health Policy Malpractice,” column, Sept. 4). But the V.A. is running full steam into a brick wall because of a lack of capacity.

Why? This administration failed to plan for the consequences of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The V.A. fell $3 billion short last year, and both wait times and the doctor-to-patient ratio rose.

Nearly 1.5 million men and women have been deployed to war since 2001. Army research indicates that one-third of recent war veterans may need mental health care. The V.A. can expect a staggering 500,000 combat veteran mental health patients in the next few years.

Sadly, Dr. Frances Murphy, the V.A.’s deputy under secretary for health, confirmed the V.A.’s lack of capacity this May, saying some V.A. clinics do not provide mental health or substance abuse care, or if they do, ”waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible.” Without adequate financing and a comprehensive plan to increase capacity, the V.A. may spiral further into crisis and buckle under a tidal wave of demand.

Paul Sullivan
Washington, Sept. 4, 2006

The writer, a Persian Gulf war veteran, is director of programs at Veterans for America.

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