By Steve Vogel
Veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues often face long waits for treatment that leave them at risk of suicide, according to testimony at a Senate hearing Thursday and new reports from the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general.
The reports come as the VA faces unprecedented demand for mental health services from veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 202,000 veterans from those conflicts have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, according to data released Wednesday. This is an increase of 10,000 veterans from the previous quarterly report.
Retired Army Spec. Daniel Williams, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in Iraq from a makeshift bomb that also left him with PTSD, told the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs on Thursday that when he tried to reschedule an appointment to enable him to testify, he was told he would have to wait four months for a new date.
"I'm sorry not only do I have to go through this, but many of my fellow soldiers have to as well," said Williams, who served with the 4th Infantry Division. He testified that he attempted suicide in 2004 after being unable to get psychiatric help but was saved when his gun misfired.
Williams, a resident of Homewood, Ala., described continued struggles battling red tape, waiting for appointments and trying to get attention at VA facilities. "It literally takes my wife nearly getting arrested by VA police," he said.
"The VA system makes you want to give up and try something else," added Williams, who testified on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.