VA Drive To Hire 1,600 Mental Health Professionals Hits Community Clinics’ Supply

Guy Gugliotta | Kaiser Health News | April 7, 2013

The Department of Veterans Affairs, trying to cope with a surge in psychological needs of veterans, has vowed to hire 1,600 additional mental health care professionals by the end of June, but some experts say the pool of qualified candidates is too small and the federal effort could jeopardize already-understaffed community health organizations.

The VA told a Senate committee in late March that it had hired 1,089 additional staff with four months remaining until the deadline, and Michael Culpepper, the VA’s chief officer for workforce management, said in an interview the agency "feels optimistic about meeting our goals."

But several experts expressed misgivings about the overall effect of the VA initiative on the delivery of mental health care, not only to veterans but also to the public at large. Mental health consultant Charles Curie, former administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggested the VA was playing a "zero-sum game"—recruiting experienced caregivers from community-based organizations that will find it difficult to replace them.