VA Secretary Says Veterans Are the ‘Canary in the Coal Mine’ of Mental Illness

“We are the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to mental health, said Veterans Administration Secretary Bob McDonald in an interview with Psychiatric News. “Mental health care is a problem in this country–it’s not just a problem for those who have suffered PTSD or traumatic brain injury in combat; it is a problem for football players, hockey players, police officers, and many others. We have got to get ahead as a society on mental health.”

McDonald spoke to reporters after a speech to the AMA’s House of Delegates, which held the opening session of its 2014 Interim Meeting yesterday in Dallas. During his speech to delegates outlining efforts to reform the VA in the wake of publicity about substandard care and unusually long waits for appointments in some VA facilities, McDonald specifically addressed the need for better psychiatric care, including increased reimbursement for psychiatrists. Regarding reimbursement, psychiatry won a recent victory that will bring their pay to more competitive levels effective November 30.

“As I’ve gone around the country, I’ve discovered we don’t have enough students in medical school studying mental health,” he said. “Why? Insurance reimbursement rates are low, and there’s a stigma in society about mental health.

“The good news is that at the VA we know about mental health,” McDonald said. “We are on the cutting edge of mental health….It’s a big issue, and as a society we have to get on top of it.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychiatrists’ Pay to Rise at Veterans Health Administration.”

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