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Veterans needing treatment for mental health issues

Posted at 10:41 PM, Mar 11, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-11 22:41:43-04

As troops return home from war, more and more veterans are finding themselves in need of treatment for mental health issues.

Many of them end up having to wait for long periods to get the help they need.

Jessica Raines is proud of her husband's service. Paul Raines spent his tour in Iraq investigating IED and suicide bomb attacks.

“You see a lot. One of the bombings of the market um, it killed women and children... I mean, it changes your whole perspective on life,” said Raines.

When he returned to civilian life in Maryland, he had a hard time coping.

He learned later that he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I drank like a fish when we got back. Really I was just trying to suppress and kill the pain of what I saw over there. So it took a little while for me to actually get around to the idea that, OK, I need help,” said Raines.

The Raines' contacted a veteran’s affairs medical center last May.

“I didn't give him a choice,” said his wife. “We weren't even sleeping in the same bed, because he would have flashbacks and nightmares.”

Paul got an appointment with a primary care physician, but he says the doctor didn't perform a full evaluation and instead gave him medications to combat anxiety and depression.
The veterans’ health administration's mental health handbook says all new patients must receive a comprehensive evaluation and treatment planning within 14 days.

The VA says 95% of cases meet those requirements.

But the department's own survey found 37% of vets have to wait longer than 14 days for an appointment.

And once referred to a specialist, 52% have to wait more than two weeks to be seen.

That was the case for Paul. The pills he was prescribed in May only made matters worse and he didn't receive therapy.

By July, he was suicidal.

“They admitted me to the psychiatric ward over at the VA clinic for a period of almost a week. I didn't meet the PTSD specialist until the end of August,” said Raines.

After he was hospitalized.

“They all knew I had PTSD. It was the end of August before I actually could meet with an actual PTSD psychologist.”

Lawmakers are putting pressure on the VA to improve.

The VA says it's reviewing mental health services at all its facilities .

For the Raineses, some things are  improving.

They say Paul’s psychologist is great, but they meet just once, sometimes twice a month.

“I know I'm headed in the right direction, the question is will the VA actually be there to stand by me and help me through the process,” said Raines.

All material copyright of CNN 2012.