Rep. Mast Writes to VA on Behalf of Veterans Who Say They Are Losing Access to Their Doctors (Video)

Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL)

Several Veterans recently spoke with Fox News to share how the Veterans Affairs medical facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, is taking away access to the community providers they are forced to find because the VA is unable to meet veteran needs.

Michael Cohen, a 22-year veteran of the United States Air Force, sought help for emotional challenges resulting from his service.  Cohen told Fox that for years, he tried to see Cohen multiple VA therapists, but they could not see him on a regular basis.  He opted to seek out-of-pocket private treatment through the VA’s community care — a program designed for eligible veterans to receive care from a community provider when the VA cannot provide the care needed.

But now, the West Palm Beach VA Healthcare System is no longer approving their requests for community care and cutting off those who have served our nation from their longtime mental health providers.

Fox News reports:

Jessica Carillo, a former Air Force staff sergeant, receives primary care through the West Palm Beach VA.

“I got laid off last year in September, and I have not been able to pay for my psychiatrist that I used to pay out of pocket,” she told Fox News Digital. She said community care helped pay for her therapy, but the VA cut her off in January.

“I was in the middle of a big, big, big session. We just discovered some major things. And then, they left me in limbo,” Carillo said.

The facility falls in Congressman Brian Mast’s district (R-FL). Mast,  a former Army bomb technician who lost both his legs and a finger in Afghanistan, said his office has been contacted by over 70 veterans, their relatives, and their mental health providers to raise concerns about the potentially devasting consequences of the VA’s decision.

“They are now being told, listen, everybody that you were seeing outside for your mental health care, you can’t do that anymore. You now have to come internal to the West Palm Beach VA hospital and get your mental health care there,” Mast said.

Community care was made permanent when President Trump signed the VA Mission Act in 2018.

On May 13, 2024, Mast wrote the following letter to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Denis McDonough, the Network Director of VA Sunshine Healthcare Network, David Isaacks,  to express his concerns and demand answers.

Secretary McDonough,

I am writing to you because I am concerned about the mental health of our veterans. In recent months, my office has been inundated with calls and emails from veterans upset about being denied access to their current community mental health physicians.

Veterans are reporting that the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center is refusing to authorize their requests to continue community-based care. In particular, veterans say the West Palm Beach VAMC will no longer cover referrals to outside mental health care providers.

This is a departure from a long-standing practice. For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has allowed veterans to receive outside care because of an inability to retain adequate mental health professionals. This flexibility allowed veterans to escape the poor experiences they previously had within the VA’s network, including frequent last-minute cancellations for appointments to high-turnover rates among mental health staff.

Despite that troubling record, my office is now hearing that veterans are being denied·access to their preferred mental health care providers. As of January, we’ve been contacted by over 70 veterans, relatives, and mental health providers about this matter.

As a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan, this is extremely troubling to hear from my brothers and sisters in uniform. Like any individual, veterans do not want to lose access to their doctors, especially after having built trust and personal relationships over years of treatment. In the case of veterans battling post-traumatic stress, these disruptions could have irreparable damage and cause them to relapse.

It takes time for any individual, not just a veteran, to feel comfortable enough with a mental health provider to discuss their traumas and afflictions. By forcing these veterans away from their current providers against their wishes, the WPS VAMC would make veterans relive events and situations that have left them with deep wounds. This is not a risk we can afford to take given that the suicide rate among veterans remains unacceptably high and is on the rise.

I believe that veterans deserve the flexibility to choose from who and where they receive their mental health services. Veterans want to go where they are valued and respected. Unfortunately, the West Palm Beach VAMC, due to high turnover and inferior service, has not shown in the past that this is something it can provide.

The brave men and women who put on this country’s uniform should get the care they earned and deserve. I ask that you answer the following questions:

1. Why has the West Palm Beach VAMC begun denying veterans access to their outside mental health providers?

2. ls the recent surge in community care authorization refusals due to a change in policy within the VA?

3. If a veteran desires to remain with a community-care mental health provider, and their community provider supports continued treatment, will the VA honor that request?

4. In light of the documented shortage of mental health professionals within the VA system,
why does the department continue to restrict veterans’ access to community-based care where such professionals are more readily available?

5. How does the VA justify its denial of community-based mental health care to veterans, especially when it often results in prolonged wait times and exacerbation of their mental health conditions?

6. How does the VA reconcile its obligation to provide timely, effective, and comprehensive mental health care to veterans with its ongoing refusal to fully utilize community-based resources, which are often more accessible and responsive to veterans’ needs?

7. What steps is the VA taking to ensure that veterans who are unable to access timely mental health care within the VA system are promptly referred to and supported in obtaining care from community providers?

8. Given the growing recognition of the importance of holistic, community-integrated approaches to mental health care, why does the VA persist in maintaining policies that limit veterans’ access to the full spectrum of available resources, including community­ based services?

Please respond by May 20, 2024.

You can view the letter below:

Watch:

 

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