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J Ment Health Adm. 1997 Fall;24(4):373-85.

Policy-relevant program evaluation in a national substance abuse treatment system.

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  • 1Progam Evaluation and Resource Center, VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA.


This article discusses recent trends in public and private substance abuse services and offers suggestions on how the evaluation of such services can inform clinical practice and policy making. This analysis focuses particularly on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which operates the largest substance abuse treatment system in the United States. In recent years, there has been an erosion of services for substance abuse outside the VA. In contrast, due to increased funding from the U.S. Congress, the VA significantly expanded substance abuse treatment from 1990 to 1994. However, efforts to "reinvent" and downsize government initiated a reversal of this growth trend in 1994, and VA services may shrink further as the system becomes more decentralized and adopts managed care strategies from the private sector. Drawing from the VA Program Evaluation and Resource Center's (PERC) experience of evaluating the VA system and working with federal policy makers, this article presents examples and suggestions for making evaluations of substance abuse treatment systems more useful in policy discussions and in day-to-day clinical practice.

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