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Many War Veterans Don't Get Mental Health Help

An evaluation finds that half of those who need it don't apply for it

A veteran fills out a medical form

Steve Debenport/Getty Images

The study found that veterans without close family and friends were much less likely to seek mental health services.

An evaluation that included interviews, reviews of literature and site visits has found that up to half of recent U.S. wartime veterans who may have a need for mental health services have not taken advantage of such help.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), surveyed a representative sample of records for the 4 million veterans who served in recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“A large proportion of veterans do not receive any treatment following diagnosis” of post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], substance use disorder [SUD] or depression, the survey found.

In particular, the study found that veterans without close family and friends were much less likely to avail themselves of mental health services. Such personal connections help prod veterans to seek help, the study found.

Despite the support systems that exist in the VA, many veterans don’t know “how to connect” to services, are uncertain about their eligibility or simply aren’t aware that the services exist.

The study also found “chronic workforce problems” that “have a significant impact on the care veterans receive.” In addition, “complex eligibility criteria” and confusing procedures as veterans make the transition from the Department of Defense to the VA can hinder participation rates.

To bolster services and raise participation, veterans suggested smoothing the process for making appointments and “improving customer service.”

Among other recommendations, the study suggested that the VA set a goal of being a “high-reliability provider of high-quality” mental health services in the next three to five years and that it expand its outreach efforts “beyond the initial postdeployment period.”