The Department of Veterans Affairs wasted tens of millions of dollars last year on salaries for psychiatrists who weren’t seeing patients, the agency’s inspector general said in a report Tuesday that detailed continued problems in getting veterans the mental health care they need.
Veterans Health Administration clinics were more focused on meeting hiring goals than in getting the right number of mental health professionals on staff, the inspector general said, meaning that most of them had to rush to hire psychiatrists to meet the demand by December 2014.
Many of the clinics — even those with shortages — had psychiatrists with duties other than caring for patients, investigators said, leading to about a quarter of their time being wasted.
“VHA facilities could have better used an estimated 25 percent of psychiatrist FTE clinical time to see veterans during FY 2014, which equated to nearly $113.5 million in psychiatrists’ pay. Over the next 5 years, this clinic time not used for patient care would equate to over $567 million if clinic management is not strengthened now,” the audit said.
Investigators said the VA has increased spending on psychiatrists by about 15 percent since 2012, but has increased appointments by only 10 percent, suggesting more waste.
One clinic in Minneapolis boosted its psychiatric resources by 14 percent, but appointments dropped by more than 21 percent. By contrast, the clinic in Miami boosted its resources by 25 percent and its appointments by 36 percent.
Investigators said the difference was that officials in Miami actively monitored psychiatrists’ workloads and productivity to make sure they were getting the most from them.
The inspector general pushed the VA do a better job of matching psychiatric resources to actual needs.
VA Undersecretary of Health David Shulkin agreed with the report and said he would move forward to ensure that psychiatrists are available for patients who need them.