ATLANTA — Veterans' health care facilities should strive to provide immediate mental health care for any who request it, the leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs said Wednesday in Atlanta amid concern in neighboring Alabama that average wait times are too long.

Secretary Robert McDonald spoke with reporters while in the city to attend a conference for veterans who own businesses.

McDonald's visit came after U.S. Rep. Martha Roby of Montgomery's criticism of the average wait time of 67 days for an appointment in mental health care at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System in recent federal statistics. A June audit found the wait was around 57 days. The system has disputed those figures because of incorrect appointment record-keeping.

Roby, speaking on the House floor Tuesday, said that doesn't excuse the wait time.

"But if, after all this time, we haven't figured out how to properly schedule patients at the VA, we have worse problems than I thought," the Republican congresswoman said. "I don't expect it to magically improve overnight, but we shouldn't be moving in the wrong direction."

McDonald said the Atlanta VA Medical Center has no wait times for mental health appointments, adding "I'd like to get to be able to that point more around the country." He said the VA is working with universities to encourage more people to work in mental health care.

He also defended the agency's work in Alabama, where the system's director was fired for neglect of duty. A federal appeals board upheld the firing last month.

"We know we have issues in Alabama," McDonald said. "We changed the leadership. We've sought disciplinary action against the previous leaders."

The Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System serves nearly 42,000 veterans through major medical facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee and outpatient clinics in Monroeville, Fort Rucker and Dothan in Alabama and in Columbus, Georgia.

More In Veterans
In Other News
Load More