OIG Seal
Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General
Michael J. Missal, Inspector General

Report Summary

Title: Review of Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care
Report Number: 12-00900-168 Download
Issue Date: 4/23/2012
VA Office: Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
Report Author:
Report Type: Audits, Reviews & Evaluations
Release Type: Unrestricted

Congress and the VA Secretary requested the OIG determine how accurately the Veterans Health Administration records wait times for mental health services for both new patients and established patients visits and if the wait time data VA collects is an accurate depiction of the veteran’s ability to access those services. VHA policy requires all first-time patients referred to or requesting mental health services receive an initial evaluation within 24 hours and a more comprehensive diagnostic and treatment planning evaluation within 14 days. The primary goal of the initial 24-hour evaluation is to identify patients with urgent care needs and to trigger hospitalization or the immediate initiation of outpatient care when needed.

One method VHA uses to monitor access to mental health services is to calculate patients’ waiting times by measuring the elapsed days from the desired dates of care to the dates of the treatment appointments. Medical facility schedulers must enter the correct desired dates of care in the system to ensure the accuracy of this measurement. VHA’s goal is to see patients within 14 days of the desired dates of care.

VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointment. As a result, performance measures used to report patient’s access to mental health care do not depict the true picture of a patient’s waiting time to see a mental health provider.

The Under Secretary for Health concurred with the OIG’s findings and recommendations and stated VHA is unequivocally committed to providing Veterans the best care possible.