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VA disputes report on Vet Centers

WASHINGTON—The Department of Veterans Affairs has rejected the findings of a recent report warning that increased demands on its walk-in treatment centers could affect the quality of care.

"VA's Vet Center program is the world's leader in providing readjustment services to war veterans to help them reintegrate to a successful return to their communities," the agency said in a statement.

The VA was conducting its own survey of workload and quality of care at the Vet Centers.

The report last week from the Democratic staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee said demand had risen for outreach and other services at nearly a third of the centers because of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The VA created the network of treatment centers staffed largely by former combat troops, where veterans could seek help immediately for mental health concerns and other problems, in 1979 after the Vietnam war.

The report says the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder doubled from October 2005 to June.

When he was asked about the report last week during a speech in Wisconsin, VA Secretary James Nicholson said the agency had enough money and staff to treat veterans' mental health needs.

"We're dealing with it with great excellence," he said.

In its survey of 60 of the 207 Vet Centers, the report found that the centers needed more staff and that a quarter might have to cut services and create waiting lists.

The VA countered that "no vet center has a waiting list, and all veterans without appointments are welcomed and assessed within 30 minutes of their arrival."

The agency said it had authorized three new centers and had been expanding 11 others since the Iraq war began. It also has hired 100 more war veterans—a 10 percent staff increase—as "outreach specialists."

"Ninety-eight percent of all Vet Center clients have told us they are highly satisfied with our services, and would refer a fellow veteran to a Vet Center if he or she needed help," the VA statement said.

John Rowan, the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, said in a statement that more staff and expanded centers were good steps, but "not enough in the face of the growing, well-documented needs of our veterans and their families."