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Veterans Affairs Tailors Plan to Expand Mental Health Staff

April 25, 2012

JACKSON, MS - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced the department would add approximately 1,600 mental health clinicians as well as nearly 300 support staff to its existing workforce. As part of this announcement, 202 clinicians and 39 support personnel will be hired to support local mental health operations in VA’s South Central VA Health Care Network (VISN 16), which encompasses VA facilities in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. 

“As the tide of war recedes, we have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to anticipate the needs of returning Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more Veterans return home, we must ensure that all Veterans have access to quality mental health care.”          

As part of its ongoing comprehensive review of mental health operations, VA considered a number of factors to determine staffing levels, including:

  • Regional Veteran population;
  • Regional mental health needs of Veterans;
  • Range of mental health services provided in the region. 

The regional networks will use the same criteria to determine staffing levels at facilities and announce those results in the coming weeks.

Nationwide, VA has an existing workforce of 20,590 mental health staff that includes nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. Currently, more than 1,600 mental health clinicians and support staff work locally supporting Veterans living in VISN 16.

The South Central VA Health Care Network is one of 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) to begin recruitment immediately. Last year, VA provided specialty mental health services to 1.3 million Veterans.  Since 2009, VA has increased the mental health care budget by 39 percent.  In the past five years, VA has seen a 35 percent increase in the number of Veterans receiving mental health services, and a 41 percent increase in mental health staff.

With one additional mental health care provider, a facility could potentially reach hundreds more Veterans battling mental illness. New providers will join a team that is already actively treating Veterans through individualized care, readjustment counseling, and immediate crisis services. Additional staff members also afford opportunities to look long-term and expand into cutting edge PTSD research and to explore alternative therapies. 

VA anticipates the majority of mental health clinicians and support staff will be hired locally within approximately six months and the most hard-to-fill positions filled by the end of the second quarter of FY 2013. Additionally, by engaging VHA health care recruiters to find the right talent for the right positions in the right locations, timely hiring is possible.

“Mental health services must be closely aligned with Veterans’ needs and fully integrated with health care facility operations,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel. “Improving access to mental health services will help support the current and future Veterans who depend on VA for these vital services.”

Interested mental health care providers can find additional information about VA careers online at www.va.careers.va.gov.  Open positions will be announced online at USA Jobs (www.usajobs.gov*).

To locate the nearest VA facility or Vet Center for enrollment and to get scheduled for care, Veterans can visit VA’s website at www.va.gov. Immediate help is available at www.VeteransCrisisLine.net or by calling the Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (push 1) or texting 838255.

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The South Central VA Health Care Network, one of 21 Veterans Service Networks in the Department of Veterans Affairs, serves the needs of America's Veterans by providing primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services. It covers a vast area of 170,000 square miles, serving Veterans in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Texas, Missouri, Alabama, and Florida. More than 445,000 Veterans annually seek care from its ten medical centers and 57 community based outpatient clinics.

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