"While we must do everything that we can to greatly expand the VA's mental health capabilities, I am open to exploring options outside of the VA for contracting services with public and private mental health providers, including Tricare," Sanders said.
Veterans groups are noncommittal at this early stage. They traditionally prefer beefing up the VA's capacity rather than going outside the system.
"It's a fantastic system," Joe Davis, a spokesman for Veterans for Foreign Wars, said of the VA. "For contracted-out care, we will only concede to that for extremely rural areas, or for specialized care, when that type of care is not readily available at the VA."
With that caveat, Davis said the suggestion is worth a look.
Dr. James Tuorila, a clinical psychologist in St. Cloud, Minn., who also advises the VFW on mental health issues, said he's afraid many of the doctors who see Tricare patients still don't have the specialized training the VA offers its psychiatrists and psychologists for treating such illnesses as post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Being a veteran myself, there was an affinity to working with other veterans. The VA needs to step up on training and on offering internships so it can hire more of these professional veterans in the mental health area," Tuorila said.
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