The Current State of Veterans’ Mental Health Care

Sculptures of soldiers

For decades, service members have been placed in incredibly difficult situations domestically and internationally, both on the battleground and beyond.

Some veterans come home from these scenarios with the ability to move past suffering associated with what they’ve experienced, and continue building on their lives with minimal dysfunction to their health. For others, however, the traumatic events they have experienced create a dysfunction that requires professional care, which helps them transition more smoothly to civilian life.

What Mental Health Care is Available to Veterans?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Further, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that a third of Vietnam veterans will experience PTSD in their lifetime, and each day, an average of 20 of these veterans die by suicide.

To combat this, the VA has services available that help diagnose and treat veterans with mental health disorders. These benefits include:

  • Inpatient and outpatient care at VA medical centers
  • Community-based outpatient treatment services
  • Vet Center support, including individual and whole-family services, for post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, depression, readjustment, and substance use disorders

Is the Current Coverage Enough?

According to the VA Disability Rating System, in the year 2000, the average compensation provided to veterans through the disability rating system was nearly $20 billion for 2.3 million veterans. In 2013, that number rose to $54 billion in compensation for 3.5 million veterans. This number has continued to rise in the past five years and will hopefully continue to do so, enabling veterans to receive the compensation and care they deserve. But some question if this is enough.

“Most veterans who need care do not know if they need care, how to get it, whether or not they are eligible or where to go,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate professor of nutrition and health silence at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. “While several improvements have happened over the past decade, there are constant challenges with growing numbers of those who need care (a large proportion of those who returned from war in the past two decades have mental health issues).”

Common Barriers to Care for Veterans

“To complicate the issue,” Khubchandani continues, “there are staffing and workforce shortages, profound stigma, chronic nature of illnesses requiring long-term attention and follow-up, types of mental health disorders that aren’t familiar to people and often undiagnosed (PTSD, for example), and the co-occurrence of disorders (PTSD and depression, for example).”

Khubchandani added that the tendency to seek care also depends on perceptions about VA health services, the organization of VA, and access factors such as available transportation or distance from and availability of providers.

Other common barriers include a lack of VA staff availability for providing mental health treatment, veterans not trusting the VA or the military to provide services or help because of past trauma, and a lack of providers in the community with experience in treating veterans.

In addition, veterans may believe that therapy may not work, or that if they talk about their past trauma, it will only make them feel worse. Khubchandani added that one of the major problems isn’t veteran specific: there is simply a lack of awareness regarding treatment options for mental health.

If you combine all of these factors, veterans often aren’t receiving the care they require.

“As a country, we have moral, ethical and social reasons for improving mental health and health care for veterans,” Khubchandani said. “For those who aspire to serve the country, this should not be a deterrent or discouraging factor. Individuals with serious mental illness should also get a chance to be treated, recover, and re-enter the community as productive citizens. Eventually, this would create stable families and a more healthy society.”

Where to Get Help

Those in the military have been known to take care of their physical health, but in today’s armed forces, mental health is equally essential to mission success and recovery. After all, your mental health is a critical component to your overall wellbeing. If you are a veteran experiencing mental health challenges, or suspect a family member who is a veteran would benefit from talking to a mental health provider, continue to explore paths to getting help.

The VA is a great place to start and check coverage that’s available, but know there are alternatives. Confidential counselors are available for service members and their families via Military One Source (1-800-342-9647), and primary care and behavioral health care providers can help point you in the right direction.

Published by

Ladan Nikravan Hayes

Contributor