Independent Record: VA acute mental health facility faces chronic lack of docs

Montana veterans traumatized by their service and in need of acute inpatient psychiatric treatment for problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual trauma must travel hundreds of miles out of state for help.

In the meantime, the acute psychiatric wing of the $7 million, 24,000-square-foot inpatient mental health facility at Fort Harrison, which was announced with great fanfare in June 2011, sits empty…

The failure to recruit the necessary psychiatrists and fully open the Fort Harrison hospital has caught the attention of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki; VA Undersecretary for Health Robert Petzel, and Sen. Jon Tester. It was a point of conversation on Capitol Hill last week during a U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs meeting…

Tester, who was on hand for the grand opening last summer, said the facility’s failure to recruit inpatient psychiatrists is “totally unacceptable.”

Tester, the state’s only member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, acknowledges it has been a challenge to attract health care professionals to rural America. But, he disagreed with Korogi’s other reasons for not filling the spots. He met with Petzel on Thursday to discuss incentives to help with recruitment.

Tester especially doesn’t buy the low-pay argument.

“They get paid pretty good dough and Helena is not the most expensive place on earth,” Tester said. “Maybe we don’t have the right people in the field selling places like Helena, because quite honestly I think Montana is the best state in the nation. The bottom line is this: They need to redouble their efforts.”

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