Half of veterans aren't receiving the mental health care they need, report finds

The problem is they often don't know where to start

Matt Saintsing
February 01, 2018 - 11:36 am

U.S. Army photo by Spc. JD Sacharok, Operations Group, National Training Center


American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan represent the longest sustained combat operations in U.S. history. Sadly, research shows up to 18 percent of OEF/OIF veterans have post-traumatic stress (PTS) after they return, and depression in returning troops can be as high as 25 percent.  

It’s no secret that veteran suicide has reached an all-time high, and the VA hasn’t always shown its competence in being able to stop the problem.

Yet, half of veterans who need mental health care don’t get it, and more than half of those who would benefit from the care don’t even know they need it, according to a new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, released Wednesday.

The assessment was ordered by Congress in 2013, and conducted by a committee of 18 researchers.

Of those who could benefit greatly from mental health care, the majority don’t know whether they’re eligible, don’t know how to get the services, and don’t even know that the VA provides mental health care, according to the congressionally mandated investigation.

Veterans who seek treatment for PTS, substance abuse, depression, and other mental health conditions have to jump through the VA’s bureaucracy, or clinics that aren’t always adequately staffed. Lack of social support, distance to clinics and hospitals and stigma associated with admitting a mental health issue also discourage vets from seeking out care.

The study suggests that the VA has a messaging problem, and that reaching veterans who need care isn’t always easy.

A VA report last September, found that in 2014, the suicide rate among vets was 22 percent higher than adults who never served in the military. Those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did so in an all-volunteer force, often deployed multiple times, with longer time abroad and less at home, compared to other conflicts, the study notes.

Veterans find that getting an appointment is “burdensome,” and that some routine issues, even finding parking, are hindering vets at almost all of the medical centers included in the study.

The report also finds that investments in VA employees, facilities, and technology would also streamline veterans’ care.

While there isn’t an all-inclusive quick fix to the problems in the report, making appointments and facilities more welcoming and accessible would go a long way to bringing in veterans who need these services.

In the meantime, the Trump administration is making moves to expand veterans’ access to mental health. President Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 9, giving military and VA officials 60 days to develop a plan to give service members transitioning back to civilian life access to such treatment in the first year following their service.