Health services and programs being used by post-9/11 veterans

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Providing quality healthcare to veterans with mental health issues is complex, especially given that there are some delays in receiving care from the VA system and veterans have a wider choice of healthcare options under the Veterans Choice Act/Veteran Community Care program.

A recent study asked new post-9/11 veterans who had screened positive for one or more “probable” mental health problems which healthcare programs and services they had used since separating from active duty service.

“An important finding in this study was that veterans from the most junior enlisted ranks who screened positive for a mental health problem were significantly less likely to use a healthcare program of any kind,” said Keith Aronson, associate director of the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. “This is a concerning finding given that veterans from the junior enlisted ranks are most likely to have difficult military to civilian transitions including earning less money, having a greater risk of homelessness, and experiencing higher unemployment.” 

Nearly three-quarters of veterans screened positive for a probable anxiety disorder, 69 percent screened positive for PTSD, 51 percent for depression, and 57 percent for alcohol misuse. The veterans who screened positive for a probable mental health condition also reported an ongoing physical health condition.

Additionally, nearly one-third of veterans who screened positive for a mental health problem received counseling for mental health, relationship, or substance misuse problems. Eleven percent used alternative medicine such as acupuncture or chiropractic care, and 8 percent used various other programs or services. Approximately half of the veterans reported receiving care in VA hospitals or clinics, while about one-third of veterans reported not using any healthcare programs or services.

Nicole Morgan, assistant research professor at the Clearinghouse and co-author of the study said, “Based on the findings of this study it is clear that veterans from the junior enlisted ranks should be targeted for enhanced transition support, and this support should begin prior to their separation from active duty service.”

In another finding, African-American and Asian-American veterans screening positive for a mental health problem were significantly more likely than their white peers to use VA services, although there were few differences in their use of non-VA services and programs.

According to Daniel Perkins, co-author, professor and principal scientist at the Clearinghouse as well as principal investigator of The Veterans Metric Initiative, “The higher use of VA services by ethnic minority veterans may be the result of efforts the VA has undertaken to increase access to care, such as the establishment of the Center for Minority Veterans, which works to ensure that all veterans receive equal service and helps steer veterans from minority groups to resources and programs that are offered by the VA.”

Among veterans who screened positive for a mental health condition, those exposed to combat, having a medical discharge, or having a chronic physical or mental health problem were all more likely to report using VA healthcare services. On the other hand, veterans who screened positive for alcohol misuse demonstrated lower healthcare use.

Male and female veterans screening positive for mental health problems were similar in their use of healthcare services and programs. This is consistent with recent research indicating that the newest generation of post-9/11 female veterans are seeking out VA services more than previous cohorts, likely due to enhanced programmatic offerings to women, greater outreach efforts, and increasing satisfaction with services.

The Clearinghouse is an applied research center committed to advancing the health and well-being of service members and their families. The Clearinghouse takes a solution-oriented approach that includes writing research reports, conducting applied research studies, building workforce expertise through training and resource provision, implementing and evaluating evidence-informed programs and practices, and delivering objective data and policy-relevant findings so that decisions are based on the best science and evidence available. The Clearinghouse is located within Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute.

The Veterans Metrics Initiative research was managed by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. (HJF); and collaboratively sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Health Net Federal Services, The Heinz Endowments, HJF, Lockheed Martin Corporation, May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, National Endowment for the Humanities, Northrop Grumman, Philip and Marge Odeen, Prudential, Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Rumsfeld Foundation, Schultz Family Foundation, Walmart Foundation, Wounded Warrior Project Inc., and the Veterans Health Administration Health Services Research and Development Service (FOP-15-464).

Last Updated April 15, 2021