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Care for Veterans With Mental Illness Good in VA System

Some measures, however, need improving

FRIDAY, Oct. 21 (HealthDay News) -- The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) takes relatively good care of U.S. veterans with mental illnesses and substance use disorders; however, there is regional variation in the quality of services provided, and room for improvement, according to research published online Oct. 19 in Health Affairs.

Katherine E. Watkins, M.D., of the RAND corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., and colleagues studied data on 836,699 veterans who received treatment for mental illnesses during the 2007 fiscal year to evaluate the VA's mental illness and substance-use treatment system.

The researchers found that the quality of care was as good or better than the care received by patients with private insurance or those enrolled with Medicare or Medicaid, but quality varied among regional service networks by as much as 23 percentage points. The 15.4 percent of veterans with mental illness and substance use problems accounted for 32.9 percent, or $12 billion, of VHA costs.

"While the VA does a better job at providing mental health services than other health care systems, there is still substantial room for improvement," Watkins said in a statement. "With some changes, the VA could provide even better and more cost-effective care for the nation's veterans, as well as serve as a model for other health care systems."

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