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Missouri Senators Question VA Over St. Louis Mental Health Services

John Cochran VA Medical Center in St. Louis.

Missouri’s U.S. Senators are seeking answers from the Department of Veterans Affairs  about reports of lax mental health services in St. Louis’s VA hospital system.

The inquiry stems from allegations by the system’s former Chief of Psychiatry, Dr. Jose Mathews, regarding an “artificial backlog” of patient care created by staff who treat veterans for only a fraction of the workday.

According to the Associated Press, Mathews claims in a federal whistleblower complaint filed last year that he was demoted after his efforts to make employees work harder and more efficiently.

In a letter sent this week to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Sens. Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill asked for information on how many patients VA staff see each day and the average time veterans are waiting to be treated.

“The allegations suggest that VA St. Louis mental health providers are making inefficient use of their time, seeing patients for only a fraction of the workday, and in the process creating delays in the provision of mental health services for veterans in need,” wrote the Senators.

“If true, these claims would demonstrate an unacceptable lack of leadership at the VA in St. Louis that is putting the health and safety of veterans at risk... It is our responsibility to provide the oversight necessary to ensure our veterans receive the quality medical care they have earned.”

McCaskill and Blunt are both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Believe me: we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” McCaskill told reporters Wednesday.

“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned how to do, it’s wrestle bureaucrats to the ground to get the truth and we’re going to get the truth and we will find out what the problem is."

A spokesperson for the VA hospital in St. Louis says the complaints are under investigation.

The allegations follow recent reports that as many as 40 veterans died while waiting for medical care from the VA hospital in Phoenix.