- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2015

The Defense Department spent $2 million to develop a tool to estimate mental health staffing requirements, but the services say it doesn’t do an accurate job of estimating needs, choosing instead to use legacy or service-specific estimates for the fiscal 2016 requests, according to a report released Friday.

The Government Accountability Office report found that the Psychological Health Risk-Adjusted Model of Staffing, or PHRAMS, may not provide an accurate picture of the services’ mental health staff needs. Despite all services agreeing to use the tool to predict their 2016 budget request for mental health, each service either didn’t use it as their main source of estimates or used service-specific estimates in addition to the model because of its shortcomings.

The Army, for example, used an old system to predict its mental health staffing requirements for fiscal 2016, then ran the new PHRAMS tool once it had already determined its needs, the report said. The main problem with the new system is that it assumes all military branches require the same number of appointments to deal with different mental health conditions. Some branches, however, may see more combat during a deployment and may require additional appointments, the report said.

“This is particularly problematic for the Army because deployments are more traumatic for Army service members and may result in some service members requiring more than the average number of encounters,” the report said.

A Navy official told investigators that it too supplemented the PHRAMS estimates with additional information because the tool did not take into account the need for staff to serve deployed ships or Marine Corps units.

For the Air Force, PHRAMS was just one step in a three-step process to predict mental health staffing needs, the report said.

Since the services did not initially tell the Defense Department that they came to their estimates with outside information, the contractor will not be able to update the PHRAMS tool to eliminate the need for this outside work in the future, the report said.

The report also found that the department increased its mental health staffing by 34 percent over five years in response to a Congressional request.

The military health system had almost 6,200 health care providers in fiscal 2013, the most recent year data is available. The increase from about 4,600 providers in fiscal 2009 is a result of Congress telling the department to increase its mental health capabilities in the fiscal 2010 defense policy bill, the report said.

The majority of those added were social workers and psychologists, the report found. The Defense Department added more than 700 social workers and 570 psychologists over five years.

Most of the mental health providers added were civilians and the Army added the most new mental health staff, the report said.


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