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Michael Cohen, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is struggling with severe mental health issues stemming from his 22-year career. He has experienced traumatic events, causing nightmares and withdrawal, which have impacted his relationships. Cohen sought help from the West Palm Beach VA Healthcare System, but after years of inadequate care, he decided to pay for private therapy. However, the VA is no longer approving community care requests for veterans, leaving many without access to their longtime mental health providers, including Jessica Carillo, a former Air Force staff sergeant.

Rep. Brian Mast, a former Army bomb technician and amputee, has received numerous complaints from veterans, relatives, and mental health providers regarding VA’s discontinuation of community care referrals. He sent a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough demanding an explanation for this change in policy, which could have devastating consequences for veterans, especially those in need of mental health treatment. The VA denies any changes in its policy or budget cuts for community care, stating that they are on track to break records for community care appointments.

Despite the VA’s claims of improved care and access, veterans like Michael Cohen express dissatisfaction with the VA’s services. Cohen described his attempts to see a VA psychiatrist as counterproductive and frustrating, with appointments being missed due to lack of communication. Dr. Sarah Coleman, a private therapist, has also noticed a decline in VA referrals for her services, potentially leaving veterans without the long-term therapy they need to cope with PTSD and other issues. This lack of continuity in care could lead to negative outcomes for veterans, including suicide.

The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times higher than the general population, highlighting the urgent need for mental health support. Veterans with PTSD may experience intense anger, fear, and various physical symptoms that affect their daily lives. The VA has made efforts to prevent veteran suicide, but recent changes in community care referrals could hinder veterans’ access to necessary treatment. Many veterans fear returning to the VA for care and may be at risk of self-harm if they are unable to see their preferred providers for therapy.

Dr. Coleman emphasizes the importance of continuity in therapy for veterans with PTSD, as interrupting treatment can have detrimental effects on their well-being. It is crucial for veterans to have access to the care they need to address their mental health issues and prevent suicide. Ingrid Hernandez, an Iraq war veteran, stresses the importance of understanding and empathy in therapy, especially for older veterans who have complex trauma experiences. The disruption of care can take a toll on veterans and their families, leaving them without the support they need to heal.

Rep. Brian Mast has called for an investigation into the VA’s policy changes to ensure that veterans are prioritized and receive the care they deserve. Veterans like Michael Cohen are urging the government to honor its promise to take care of those who have served and sacrificed for their country. The VA’s alleged restrictions on community care referrals could be leaving many veterans without the necessary support to address their mental health issues, potentially putting their lives at risk. It is essential for the VA to address these concerns and provide veterans with the care and support they need to thrive.

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