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Study seeks to remove barriers to veterans accessing mental health services

There are serious obstacles preventing veterans — especially those with the most need — from seeking and receiving mental health services.

Falkland islanders and British veterans are marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict with Argentina
Falkland islanders and British veterans are marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict with Argentina - Copyright AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA
Falkland islanders and British veterans are marking the 40th anniversary of the end of the conflict with Argentina - Copyright AFP ISHARA S. KODIKARA

Suicide and mental health distress disproportionately affect veterans in the U.S. compared with the general population, medical research finds. This comes from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The report finds that over 5 million veterans have suffered from adverse behavioural health issues (based on the year 2020). The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has additionally estimated that veterans are 57.3 percent more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.

To combat this tendency, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has put several programmes in place to address the mental health needs of veterans. Despite this, funding shortfalls mean that over half of all veterans experiencing a mental health condition are not receiving timely treatment. This rate rises closer to 90 percent for veterans with a substance abuse disorder.

According to the lead report author, Sergio Ernesto Barrera, assistant professor of economics in the College of Science: “This suggests that there are serious obstacles preventing veterans — especially those with the most need — from seeking and receiving mental health services. Yet it is unclear what those obstacles are.”

Barrera has received a two-year $300,000 Suicide Prevention and Opioid Addiction Services Research Grant from the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to lead a two-year study that addresses this knowledge gap.

The future research will investigate the main determinants of suicide and substance abuse; explore factors impacting decisions to pursue mental health and substance use treatment from both VHA non-VHA providers; evaluate the appropriateness of current treatment allocations; and seek to understand if there are individual factors such as education, income, age, military service history, and characteristics of local area of residence that may be impacting care delivery.

Another reason for the lack of support for veterans has been identified by Barrera: “Additionally, some biases may enter the decision-making process. Some veterans may believe that they will be penalized for seeking mental health care or substance abuse treatment, and some physicians may focus exclusively on combat related mental health issues like PTSD at the expense of non-service linked depression.”

The research team will draw upon administrative data on military service and VA benefit usage, surveys administered by the National Center of Health Statistics, as well as surveys administered to veterans inquiring about mental health status and their perceived reasons for receiving or not receiving care.

The research goal is to provide the Virginia Department of Veterans Services with good quality information that enables them to design new interventions that will successfully remove barriers to seeking mental health services.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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