Ted Blickwedel, a former therapist at the Veteran Affairs has said that the pressure mounted on counselors who treat veterans for mental health issues is adversely affecting the quality of care at the center.
Lt. Col. Ted Blickwedel called attention to a silent problem that a Department of Veterans Affairs program is currently facing. The program was put in place to provide free mental health care to combat veterans. Blickwedel who retired last year worked as a therapist and counselor at a “Vet Center”, a VA facility in Rhode Island. He worked there for 9 years.
In an interview with NBC News, Blickwedel said that he had a wonderful experience working at the Vet Center. “We got to see huge changes in veterans……..Some of them have told me that I saved their lives.” Blickwedel said that he was enjoying his job at the center but had to quit when management increased the workload of counselors. The VA wanted counselors to attend to more clients than they used to every week. The counseling visits were increased to a level where it was interfering with the quality of care that a counselor could provide to each client.
In 2015, an internal VA report revealed that many of the Vet Centers across the U.S. have exceeded their real capacity. The report which contained a comprehensive analysis of the clinical capacity workload of vet centers recommended that counselors attend to 18 clients every week against the 20 visits per week that the VA had instructed. However, a VA employee who knew about the report and its findings said on condition of anonymity that the report was pushed aside by the Vet Center national management because it did not support its decision to increase the number of weekly visits.
In 2016, the VA increased the number of required visits to a minimum of 30 per week. This meant that counselors would have to see six clients daily for five working days. When Blickwedel heard of the new productivity and performance standards for counselors, he felt it would create an ethical dilemma for counselors. He said that the counselors would be torn between doing what they had to do to meet the metrics and doing what’s best for the veterans. Although Blickwedel has written to the authorities about his concerns, he says he will continue to speak out until something is done about the metrics. “These veterans deserve better,” he said.