INDIANAPOLIS — The Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Administration Medical Center has so far not explained why it is telling two different stories on its ability to deliver timely mental health services to Indiana veterans.
In a January 22nd email to CBS4 Investigates a Roudebush spokesman wrote the “VA as a whole is meeting the mental health needs of Veterans nationwide.”
That’s not what Roudebush is telling higher-ups within the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
The watchdog of the VA, the Inspector General’s Office, last September put out its annual census on staffing shortages at all VA hospitals.
Roudebush reported a severe staffing shortage in psychiatry.
Deputy Assistant Inspector General Dr. Julie Kroviak explains, “The data we have is what they’re reporting. We’re not validating it. We’re not checking their numbers.”
And yet the Roudebush spokesman noted the hospital is nearly fully staffed with psychiatrists, with 31 on staff and just a single vacancy.
CBS4 Investigates asked Kroviak if it’s possible for a VA hospital to be almost at full staff and still have a severe staffing shortage.
Kroviak said, “Yes. This is not looking at (staff) vacancies. This is looking at what their needs are.”
That got CBS4 Investigates wondering how long veterans may be waiting for appointments. If demand for appointments at Roudebush was growing, even with dozens of psychiatrists, the wait times could be longer.
Last year, a trio of researchers published a comparison of wait times at VA hospitals versus the wait times at non-VA hospitals in the same area. The data used was mined directly from the VA’s corporate data warehouse.
“It’s an automated scheduling system,” says Dr. Kevin Griffith of Vanderbilt University, one of the researchers on the project.
Griffith added, “When a person at a VA facility is making an appointment for a veteran that information gets automatically transferred to the nationwide data warehouse.”
The huge datasets created for this project were shared with CBS4 Investigates. The data extends into late 2021. There are not wait time figures for every month of every year for every clinical specialty, but these are the latest wait times for some mental health clinical services:
- Individual Psychiatry Appointment 51-day wait
- Mental Health Clinic Appointment 55.8-day wait
- P-T-S-D Clinical Team Appointment 132-day wait
- Psychological Testing 178.7-day wait
Roudebush disputes the wait time on Psychological Testing, insisting that from October to December of last year the wait for an appointment was down to 56.4-days for an established VA patient and 90-days for a new VA patient. CBS4 Investigates cannot independently corroborate this.
The wait times at Roudebush are a serious concern for Darin Selnick, who spent almost a decade working at the VA and was a veterans affairs advisor to former President Donald Trump.
Selnick worries about what could happen to newly discharged vets who face delays in getting mental health care, “The most dangerous part for a veteran is that first year. They have double the suicide rate the first year after they leave the service.”
CBS4 Investigates shared the Roudebush wait time data and staffing shortage reports to Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ft. Wayne). Banks serves on both the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees.
“This begs a lot of questions. We certainly will be pushing the VA to answer,” said Banks.
Banks was one of the sponsors of the Mission Act, a federal law crafted to fix the problem of long wait times for VA appointments. If a vet has to wait 20-days for an appointment or has a drive of over 30-miles, by law the vet can then access care at non-VA facilities.
But when it comes to psychiatric care in Indiana, the federal law may not help.
A 2018 University of Michigan study found Indiana has among the fewest psychiatric clinicians in the US. In a per capita comparison, Indiana ranked 47th among all states.