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GAO Recommends that VA Determine Capacity Needs for Veterans with PTSD

September 28, 2004

In a report issued on September 20, The U.S. General Accounting Office has recommended that the Veterans Administration (VA) determine the total number of veterans receiving VA Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) services and provide facility-specific information to VA medical facilities and Vet centers.

The report, "VA and Defense Health Care: More Information Needed to Determine if VA Can Meet an Increase in Demand for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Services," highlights that the VA does not know the number of veterans it now treats for PTSD at its medical facilities and Vet Centers. As a result, the VA will not be able to estimate its capacity for treating additional veterans who seek VA’s PTSD services, and therefore is unable to plan for an increase in demand for these services.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by an extremely stressful event and can develop after the threat of death or serious injury as in military combat. Experts predict that about 15 percent of service members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan will develop PTSD. A national study of Vietnam veterans in 1988 found that the prevalence of PTSD was about 15 percent at that time. In all, 30 percent had experienced the disorder at some point since returning home.

According to the GAO report, the VA lacks the information it needs to determine whether it can meet an increase in demand for VA PTSD services. The VA has two reports on the number of veterans it currently treats, with each report counting different subsets of veterans receiving PTSD services. Veterans who are receiving VA PTSD services may be counted in both reports, one of the reports, or not included in either report. The VA does receive demographic information from Department of Defense (DOD), that includes home addresses of service members, which could help the VA predict those medical facilities or Vet Centers where service members could access health care.

The GAO reports, by assuming that 15 percent or more of service members who have left active duty status will develop PTSD, the VA could use the home zip codes of service members to broadly estimate the number of service members who may need VA PTSD services and identify the VA facilities located closest to their homes.

For more information, click here. (PDF, 569 KB)