USA Today: Free clinics aim to fill VA’s shortfalls in mental health

by Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Elenilson Franco, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety, first sought mental health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs nearly four years ago.

He is still waiting. The VA lost his original paperwork and hasn’t yet approved a new application, he said.

“It’s frustrating,” lamented Franco, 46, who served in Iraq as a U.S. Marine. “I am a veteran. The VA is supposed to be there for me.”

Over the past three years, the sprawling VA system has come under fire from Congress and the media because veterans were waiting too long to see a doctor. Mental health appointments have been particularly difficult, and that can be dangerous for veterans. Studies show up to 20% of soldiers returning from battle in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now, a new chain of free mental health clinics for vets has opened in five cities across the United States to fill the gap.

The much-needed new treatment is underwritten by an unlikely benefactor: Steven A. Cohen, the former head of a hedge fund that pleaded guilty to insider trading charges in 2013. His $13 billion fortune puts him among the 100 wealthiest individuals in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

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