In the wake of a Veterans Administration (VA) scandal that paints a grim portrait of health care for veterans, the results of a recent study suggest that struggling veterans are increasingly seeking mental health services. This increased demand may help reduce the stigma some veterans experience when they seek mental health care, but the VA system continues to struggle to meet veterans’ needs.
Veterans’ Use of Mental Health Services
A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health tracked changes in veterans’ use of mental health care over time. Researchers found that use of mental health services by veterans in 2011 was at 15%, almost double the 8% rate reported in 2003 at the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. More than half of veterans experienced stigma surrounding their decision to seek mental health care in 2003, compared to 44% in 2011.
The study results weren’t all positive, though. One in four soldiers reported symptoms of depression and posttraumatic stress (PTSD), but two-thirds of veterans who experience mental health concerns don’t seek appropriate care.
Ongoing Problems with the VA System
At a time when more veterans need mental health care than ever, the VA continues to be in crisis. Soldiers frequently experience long wait times before receiving care, and VA clinics report massive increases in their caseloads, due in part, perhaps, to the fact that soldiers from previous generations are increasingly seeking PTSD care. Older soldiers make up 75% of veterans seeking PTSD treatment.
In addition, veterans who do make it into VA clinics may not get the care they need. In 2012, the government spent $3 billion on PTSD services for veterans, but there’s little information about whether the treatment veterans receive actually works. A recent congressional report found that veterans may receive haphazard, piecemeal care, and that the outcomes of various treatment programs are not tracked. More than 6,000 mental health workers have been trained in cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy—evidence-based treatments for PTSD. But not all veterans get these treatments, and some may even be receiving ineffective treatments.
A Switch to Private Care?
Some politicians have argued that allowing veterans to choose their own private care providers would remedy the problems with the VA system. One bill would allow veterans to seek private care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or have to wait longer than 30 days for care. The final details of the bill have yet to be ironed out, though, and the VA itself has expressed concern about whether such a measure will improve care or just increase costs.
- Brayfield, B. (2014, June 27). VA struggles to meet demand for mental health services. KPCC Health. Retrieved from http://www.scpr.org/news/2014/06/27/45005/va-struggles-to-meet-demand-for-mental-health-serv/
- Doheny, K. (2014, July 18). Soldiers’ use of mental health services up, stigma down. HealthDay News. Retrieved from http://www.wate.com/story/26052340/soldiers-use-of-mental-health-services-up-stigma-down
- Philpott, T. (2014, July 21). VA asks Congress not to open private sector floodgates. JD News. Retrieved from http://www.jdnews.com/news/military/va-asks-congress-not-to-open-private-sector-floodgates-1.348677
- Zarembo, A. (2014, June 20). Government’s PTSD treatment for veterans lacking, report finds. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-ptsd-report-20140621-story.html
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