WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin were encouraged by the findings in a report released today by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) on mental health consults and access to care issues at the VA Maine Healthcare System (VA Maine).
The report indicated that VA Maine has made significant improvements following a 2015 report that substantiated some instances where mental health referrals and scheduling were improperly handled and resulted in lapses in care. The VA OIG noted that the VA Maine system had already sufficiently addressed five of the eight recommendations from the 2015 report, including implementing corrective actions to improve consult review and closure processes, which is now consistent with VHA policy. The follow-up review focused on the other three prior recommendations.
“We are pleased to see improvement since the last time the Inspector General reviewed the Maine VA’s health care practices, and we look forward to working with VA leadership in Maine to address the additional deficiencies identified by the Inspector General,” said Senators Collins and King and Representatives Pingree and Poliquin in a joint statement. “It’s vitally important that no Maine veterans slip through the cracks when it comes to mental health.”
The most significant deficiencies remaining pertain to scheduler training and “blind scheduling,” where VA Maine schedules mental health appointments for patients by sending them a letter in the mail without making prior direct contact, which is against VHA policy and can result in missed appointments. Recommendations from the VA OIG included requiring that:
- The system director ensure mental health schedulers consistently make direct contact with patients prior to scheduling appointments and that compliance is monitored for a minimum of three months;
- The system director ensure schedulers prioritize the needs and wellbeing of veterans when scheduling appointments; and
- The system director ensure training and competencies are documented, complete, and up to date for all staff responsible for scheduling mental health appointments.