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Half of Veterans Who Need Mental Health Care May Not Get It

A soldier sits in an empty train car, looking deep in thought.About half of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who need mental health care don’t get it, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Additionally, about half of veterans who need mental health care do not realize they need it. The report says veterans face many barriers to treatment.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), 10-18% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans likely have posttraumatic stress (PTSD) upon their return. Many of these veterans may not be getting the necessary care.

Veterans May Not Get the Treatment They Need

According to the report, around 4 million soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. To assess the effects of these wars, a committee visited VA mental health care facilities. They sought feedback from veterans, their families, health care providers, and others.

The report found that about half of veterans with a mental health need had not sought care from the VA or from a non-VA provider. Veterans most frequently cited three reasons for not seeking care.

  1. They did not know how to apply for VA mental health care benefits.
  2. They were uncertain about whether they were eligible for VA benefits.
  3. They were unaware the VA offered mental health care benefits.

Geography was also a factor. Some respondents said they lacked transportation to facilities, which were often in inconvenient locations. Other veterans worried about missing work and damaging their careers. Some were afraid of losing custody of their children due to discrimination.

Do Veterans Who Seek Mental Health Care Receive Quality Treatment?

The report says VA facilities generally provide evidence-based treatment, but there are often gaps in delivery. Low staffing and inadequate office space contribute to high wait times and provider burnout. By improving staffing and space access, the report says, VA treatment may more closely comply with treatment guidelines.

The report also argues the VA must be more proactive in ensuring that women, LGBTQ+ populations, racial and ethnic minorities, rural populations, and homeless veterans receive accessible, quality care.

Veterans have higher rates of suicide than people in the general population. In January, President Trump signed an executive order to increase access to suicide prevention services among veterans who have recently returned to civilian life.


  1. Mental health effects of serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. (2015, August 13). Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/reintegration/overview-mental-health-effects.asp
  2. VA provides mental health care to veterans of recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars of comparable or superior quality to other providers, yet substantial unmet need remains. (2018, January 31). The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Retrieved from http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.apx?RecordID=24915

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