Veterans with serious mental illnesses (SMIs) are more likely to die prematurely than civilian individuals with SMIs. Studies have shown that mental issues often occur along with other health problems such as cardiovascular illness. Among the general population and the veterans sampled with SMI, heart disease is the leading cause for premature death. For veterans who are already at increased risk for mental health problems, receiving and maintaining proper psychological care is literally a matter of life and death. In recent years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made great strides in recognizing limitations of care and has worked hard to develop plans to address these challenges.
As recently as 2010, the VA concluded a long-term improvement program that focused on identifying veterans who had stopped receiving mental health services and offering them continuation of care in order to decrease their risk for premature mortality. Chester L. Davis of the Veterans Health Administration, Office of the Medical Inspector in Washington, D.C., analyzed the data obtained from the program that focused specifically on veterans with a history of bipolar or schizophrenia. Davis found that of all 3,306 veterans who had received care in previous years, only 72% returned for care in the following year after receiving services. The study also revealed that the mortality rate for the veterans that returned for continuous care and follow-up was over five times lower than it was for veterans with SMIs who stopped their care altogether.
The data representing veterans with bipolar and schizophrenia are particularly relevant to continuous care, as this segment of clients with SMIs often have other mental health issues that co-occur and require particular attention to medication adherence and effectiveness. In sum, the study revealed that the veterans with SMIs who stopped their care prematurely were much more likely to die than those who maintained clinical contact with their mental health providers. Davis believes that the findings of this study emphasize the importance of this innovative program and the need for further efforts to help our mentally ill veterans. He added, “Proactive outreach might result in patients returning to care and should be implemented to reengage this vulnerable group.”
Davis, C. L., Kilbourne, A., Blow, F. C., Pierce, J. R., Winkel, B. M. (2012). Reduced mortality among Department of Veterans Affairs patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder lost to follow-up and engaged in active outreach to return for care. American Journal of Public Health, Supplement, S1 102.1, S74-S79.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.