- The rate of PTSD among veterans is 15 times higherthan civilians.
- Depression rates are five times higher among vets than civilians.
- Nearly 20% of veteranswho served in either Iraq or Afghanistan have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Deployment can also increase the risk of alcohol and drug dependency and suicidal behavior. If these conditions are left untreated, they can have long-lasting and damaging impacts on the lives of veterans and their loved ones.
Veteran mental health services are critically important to help returning veterans recover from their experiences in combat and the mental health issues that may follow. Veterans who receive a high quality of care have the best chances of improving their mental health and reclaiming their lives.
In this post, we’ll detail:
- Mental health conditions among veterans
- Barriers to care
- What can be done to ensure every veteran has access to the care they need
What Is High Quality of Care?
High quality of care is health care that is:
- Patient-centered (for veterans, this means the care considers issues that are unique to military experience)
Veteran Mental Health Concerns
The primary mental health concerns that impact people during, and/or after military service are:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):Traumatic events, such as military combat and assault, can have long-lasting consequences for servicemen and women. That includes trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, and alcohol and drug use. When these symptoms don’t go away, even long after returning home, it could be PTSD.
- Depression:Relentless feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness are typical signs of depression. Depression can interfere with daily life and functioning and may require treatment.
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI):TBIs are usually the result of a significant blow to the head or body. TBI symptoms include headaches, fatigue, drowsiness, memory problems, and mood swings. What’s more, research has found that military members who experience a TBI are more than twice as likely to experience PTSD later on than those who did not suffer a TBI.
Have you or a loved one been experiencing any of the above symptoms? The Help for Our Heroes Program at Transformations Treatment Center and Transformations at Mending Fences is here to help with specialized treatment programs for veterans and first responders. Learn more about our veterans’ program services here.
Improving Veteran Mental Health Care
So, how do we go about improving mental health care services for our nation’s heroes? Here are a few of the key points to improving veteran mental health care as outlined by public policy research firm RAND.
1. Increase the Number of Highly Trained Mental Health Providers
Veterans with mental health conditions and substance use problems must receive treatment and the best quality of care available. When veterans receive poor quality of care, they are less likely to recover successfully. What’s more, poor experiences with care team members can discourage veterans from seeking the care they need. Or worse, it can leave them feeling more hopeless about their condition and future than they did pre-treatment.
2. Reduce Barriers to Care
Reducing barriers to care by educating veterans about their treatment options and expanding access to high-quality treatment are absolute must-haves in this goal of improving veteran mental health care.
But, the truth is, whether it’s due to a mental health workforce shortage, inadequate training, or living in a rural area, plenty of veterans don’t get access to the care they need. Studies show that only half of all veterans who need treatment for mental health conditions seek help.
The road to recovery is often bumpy for veterans. They have to navigate a web of providers who repeatedly fail to consider their unique needs. They also face treatment options that fall short when it comes to quality of care.
Other factors that prevent veterans from seeking mental health care include:
- Shame associated with needing help
- Stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment
- Fear of appearing “weak” for needing help
- Not realizing they need help
- Concerns about negative side effects of medication
- Feeling skeptical about the effectiveness of treatment
- Worrying about career ramifications if they receive a diagnosis or get treatment
- Not knowing where to seek treatment
- Cost of treatment
- Long drive times to appointments
- Long appointment wait times
- Demographic barriers and false perceptions based on their demographics, including age and gender
These misconceptions can be debunked by education and awareness at every level.
3. Adopt and Enforce Appropriate, Consistent Standards for Quality of Care
Improving the quality of care can be done through incentives and even disincentives that support best practices. We must look to our policymakers and political leaders to motivate the use of evidence-based and high-quality treatment through consistent standards across all aspects and levels of mental health services.
For example, it would be helpful to adjust financial reimbursement for health care providers to offer appropriate compensation to attract and retain highly qualified professionals. Well-trained providers further boost the quality of care.
Another way policymakers could remove some of the barriers to veteran mental health care is by taking away the concerns about career repercussions for seeking care. This would involve making changes to military policies.
Are you looking for high-quality, specialized care for a veteran or first responder mental health issues? Help for Our Heroes is here for you. This unique program is led by a military veteran and former first responder who’s also a master’s level therapist. At Help for Our Heroes, we know what you’re going through, and we have the experience and expertise to come up with customized treatment plans that work. Download a free brochure to learn more today.
Treating Veteran Mental Health
The good news is that there are several treatment programs and paths available for vets dealing with mental health issues, including:
- Evidence-based therapy: Evidence-based therapieshave proven effective in treating a broad spectrum of mental health conditions. There are many different evidence-based therapies available, depending on what’s being treated and any co-occurring disorders.
- Medication:A combination of medication and therapy offers the best chances of reducing symptoms and restoring levels of functioning for most mental health conditions.
- Therapy: Used to support and manage medication. Therapy should be individualized and in a setting that makes the veteran feel comfortable. Therapies range from individual therapy to group therapy and residential therapy to other programs that align with the patient’s needs and lifestyle.
Help for Our Heroes Can Help
One effective solution for many of the issues facing veterans is to find help in the camaraderie of fellow veterans. The Help for Our Heroes program is led by veterans trained as mental health professionals and licensed addiction treatment therapists. This allows us to both improve the quality of care and expand treatment while breaking down the stigma. Our veteran-based care promotes community, trust, and empathy. Vets usually find it much easier to talk about their traumatic experiences and the negative impact they’ve had on their lives to counselors who have also been in the military. These counselors truly understand what veterans go through. Contact the Help for Our Heroes program today to learn more.