IG report: Defense Dept. is failing in mental health care of troops, families

Maj. Crystal McLeod, left, and Staff Sgt. Rebecca Michalek, right, demonstrate relaxation training as stress relief at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Photo by Sr. Airman Shane Phipps/U.S. Air Force

Aug. 15 (UPI) — The mental health care needs of U.S. military troops and their families are not being met by the military health system, a Defense Department Inspector General says.

The 74-page report, released this week, found that “the DoD did not consistently meet outpatient mental health access to care standards for active duty service members and their families, in accordance with law and applicable DoD policies.”

It noted that, in the December 2018 to June 2019 time period studied, “seven of 13 MTFs [military treatment facilities] or their supporting TRICARE network [civilian and veteran treatment facilities] did not meet the specialty mental health access to care standard.”

Over half of active duty members and their families, in need of mental health care, did not receive it, the report added.

The IG report also cited inconsistency in standards, inadequate staffing of clinics and hospitals, outdated provider information and other deficiencies.

Auditors reported that the Defense Department is not meeting its own legal and policy requirements for outpatient mental health care, which include wait times for urgent care not to exceed 24 hours, waits for routine visits of no more than one week, and specialty care after a referral within one month.

Patients waited an average of 79 days for an off-base psychiatry appointment after receiving a Tricare referral, auditors reported.

An average of 53%, or 4,415 of 8,328 per month, at the 13 MTFs received no care, the report said. The figures reported have no connection to the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020.

Two MTFs, at Fort Bragg, N.C., and Camp Lejuene, N.C., met Defense Department standards in every month under review, auditors said. And two others, the Malcolm Grow Medical Clinic and Surgery Center in Maryland, and the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va., never met the monthly standards.

The auditors’ recommendations included development of a single, system-wide staffing approach for behavioral health care, which estimates the number of appointments and number of personnel needed.


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