The Coastal Packet: Maine's veteran care reflects national mental health care problemss

Saturday, June 20

Maine's veteran care reflects national mental health care problemss

Central Maine - The VA Maine Healthcare System has been linked to “nationwide systemic problems” that led to veterans not receiving or waiting long periods for mental health services because of inappropriate scheduling practices and other problems, according to a report released Wednesday by a federal watchdog.

The Office of the Inspector General in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found problems with scheduling, staffing and employee morale in the mental health unit of the veterans system based in Togus, which serves nearly 10,000 patients who get treatment statewide for problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Togus officials agreed with the findings and say they’re working to correct them.

Low staffing led to some veterans not receiving services or waiting long periods for care. One patient was referred to the hospital for individual therapy in late 2013 and hadn’t received a one-on-one appointment more than 18 months after a request.

Hospital staff closed appointment requests for patients before services were delivered and for some who weren’t willing to be seen within 14 days.

Employees were told to sometimes not log patient referrals in their computerized system, making appointments difficult to track.

The agency’s report links Togus to problems similar to those at veterans’ hospitals nationwide that sparked a scandal last year. Interviewees said patients might be “slipping through the cracks” of the system, and the report found “many of the same inappropriate referral and scheduling practices” that watchdogs “previously reported as nationwide systemic problems.”

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