Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Boozman Helps Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Mental Health Care for Servicemembers and Veterans

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) today joined U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) to help introduce legislation that aims to address mental health provider shortages and increase access to care for our servicemembers and veterans.

The Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act would establish a pilot fellowship program within the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Administration (VA) to assess whether expanded use of physician assistants (PAs) specializing in psychiatric medicine can help meet the increasing demand for mental health services and improve access to quality mental health care for servicemembers and veterans.

“It is clear that we need to increase access to critical mental health care for the men and women who currently serve and those who have served our nation. One way to ensure that servicemembers and veterans struggling with mental health issues have access to care they need is to train more DoD and VA professionals to provide psychiatric care. That is why I am pleased Senator Donnelly invited me to join this effort to help close the gap between those in need of care and those who can provide it,” Boozman, the lead Republican cosponsor of the bill, said.

“There is a nationwide shortage of mental health providers within DoD and VA. This shortage can have serious consequences, leading to increased wait times or impacting the quality of care for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. One way to address mental health provider shortages is by determining whether training physician assistants in psychiatry could help meet the demand for mental health care. I am proud to partner with my friend Senator Boozman on this bipartisan legislation, which would establish a pilot program at several DoD and VA health care facilities for physician assistants to be trained in psychiatry, helping to meet the mental health care needs of servicemembers and veterans,” Donnelly, the bill’s author, said.

There is a shortage of mental health care providers within DoD and VA. In 2013, VA reported that 60 percent of its medical centers struggled to recruit and retain mental health professionals in the face of national provider shortages and a highly competitive environment. Further, national vacancy rates in VA mental health positions were highest in psychiatry (about 14 percent). DoD has faced similar challenges.

“Demand for mental health providers within VA especially is already high and it is only expected to rise as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans enter the VA health system. The problem will only get worse unless we find ways to increase mental health care providers, which is why Senator Donnelly and I introduced this bill,” Boozman said.

Provider shortages lead to increased wait times and can impact the quality of care with serious consequences for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. Several studies have identified access to mental health services and proximity to mental health specialists as key factors in preventing military and veteran suicide and combatting mental illness.

This legislation would require DoD and VA to:
  • Establish a pilot program to assess the feasibility and advisability of expanding the use of PAs specializing in psychiatric medicine to meet the growing demand for mental health providers in DoD and VA facilities;
  • Design an 18-month psychiatry fellowship for PAs, equivalent to the training received during a psychiatric residency for physicians;
  • Authorize pilot sites at three DoD and three VA health facilities for each of two rounds of the pilot program;
Implement a curriculum addressing inpatient care, outpatient care, emergency psychiatry, neurology, pain management, addictive psychiatry, child/adolescent/geriatric neurology, psycho-pharmacology, traumatic brain injury, clinical practice guidelines and serving rural/underserved populations to further a military and veteran unique approach, leading to a Clinical Doctorate of Science (DSc) in Psychiatry;

  • And, Provide interim and final reports to Congress on the pilot program, findings, and recommendations.


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