Though mental health support can literally save the lives of returning veterans, many must wait years for the help they need.
A new study has determined that vets with mental health conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression typically must wait an average of two years after returning from deployment before their mental health issues are addressed by Veterans Affairs.
"When the vets do begin to receive mental health treatment, the study also found that care is often fragmented and not as effective as is needed," commented veterans disability lawyer James Fausone.
The study, published in the journal Psychiatric Services in December 2012, looked at vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2001and 2011 processed by Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. These men and women typically were given with eight sessions of mental health treatment, a number considered far lower than that in the civilian population looking for PTSD or depression support, and widely considered "minimally adequate." Seventy-five percent of vets who went to the VA for support did not even receive what researchers dubbed "minimally adequate care."
Numerous issues may delay mental health care for veterans, including the social stigma that still may longer around mental health issues for some people, including concern that seeking care may jeopardize future job prospects. The overburdened VA system also means that many vets have long waits to get appointments for initial assessment; the average wait for a mental health evaluation at the VA was 50 days, according to a 2012 report from the VA's inspector general.
The VA has announced that it is adding additional staff and partnering with community health centers to broaden support for veterans in their communities; 15 clinics in seven
states are now able to treat
veterans with the VA's approval. U.S.
But more is needed, say mental health advocates. The VA inspector general's report found that approximately 30 percent of high-risk (i.e., potential suicidal) vets were not receiving the mandated multiple follow-up mental health visits within 30 days after an emergency hospitalization. There was no documented contact by the VA of even reaching out to those vets to remind them of follow-up appointments.