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Barriers to Mental Health Care for Veterans

When it comes to mental health care for veterans, getting help is not always as simple as it should be.

Society has gotten much better at recognizing the need for improved access to mental health treatment. However, several barriers exist in the veteran community that may prevent a veteran in need from accessing appropriate mental health and behavioral health care. Providing adequate mental health care for veterans starts with identifying and addressing the barriers that can stand in the way. This includes the lack of mental health services for veterans and the stigma surrounding getting care.  

Here’s what to know about the issues veterans may face accessing care, including resources that may help.

Mental Health and Veterans: Statistics

It’s estimated that as many as one in four veterans return from active duty with a mental health condition. Among these individuals, rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are 15x higher than the general civilian population, and rates of depression are 5x higher.

Veterans also face a significant risk of a substance use disorder. A 2017 study noted that roughly 11% of veterans seeking care in the VA system present with symptoms of substance use disorder—and that number is likely much higher since it only includes those getting treatment. 

There are many reasons why a member of the armed forces may suffer from a mental health condition, starting with the trauma they may experience on the job. In addition, about one in three female military members and one in 50 male members report experiencing military sexual trauma.

Barriers to Veterans’ Mental Health Care

Barriers to veterans’ mental health care exist inside and outside of the service member community. And to get rid of these barriers, we must acknowledge their presence and look for active ways to help individuals overcome them.

Mental Health Stigma and Internalized Shame

All groups may experience a stigma around mental health disorders and treatment, though it is particularly prominent among veterans. This stigma, which can present as outside judgment from others or even internalized shame, may prevent an individual from seeking out treatment for a mental health condition in the first place—or even admitting to needing help since it may be perceived as a sign of weakness. It may also reduce the likelihood of following proper treatment protocols like medication management and follow-up care.

Finding the Right Program

Veterans in need of mental health care benefit from treatment targeted to their unique situation and experiences. This can limit the number of available treatment options and make it very difficult to find a viable option that is convenient and affordable. 

Previous Bad Experiences

Veterans who have difficulty finding a program that works for them may give up after struggling to find the right fit. A bad experience with treatment could also lead a person to believe they cannot be helped, especially if they are unaware of better options.

Are We Doing Enough for Veterans’ Mental Health?

It’s essential to be open to understanding the mental health concerns facing veterans and the access to care they may experience. By doing so, we can all do our part to help break the stigma and encourage veterans to seek proper mental health care without guilt or shame.

Veterans looking for support can start with a discussion with their doctor, a mental health professional, or a local VA health center. It is also recommended to look into veteran-specific treatment programs. 

Retreat Behavioral Health has worked with the veteran community for many years at our locations in Pennsylvania and Florida. In addition to specialized programs, Retreat employs veterans at these facilities, providing our veteran patients with the added benefit of working with someone who understands their struggles. To learn more about the Healing Our Heroes program, visit us online.