Washington DC, Nov. 10-While the Veterans Mental Health Act was signed into law more than a year ago, a new survey by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council) finds that veterans still face significant barriers to accessing mental health and substance use treatment. The Act requires the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with community behavioral health centers to increase capacity and expand mental health services to include marriage and family counseling.
The survey of National Council members nationwide shows some of the most serious roadblocks that prevent veterans from getting treatment include:
- Access to Care: Almost two-thirds of respondents said veterans and their families experience long delays to get initial appointments for people in crisis and excessive waits in between appointments.
- Long Distances: Veterans often must travel long distances to the VA or a military base. Travel times can be as long as five hours in rural areas. Others do not have access to a vehicle or public transportation, or may be unable to drive or take public transportation because of physical and mental limitations.
- Stigma: Many veterans are concerned that seeking treatment from the VA or military will be noted in their personnel records, negatively impact their careers, and label them as "weak" or "crazy."
- Lack of Family Involvement: Though the Act specifically includes marriage and family counseling, few family members are involved in treatment. Respondents suggested these services are either not being provided or have not been widely promoted.
National Council members, community-based mental health and addictions treatment organizations, are filling these service gaps by providing a range of treatment and support services for veterans, service members and their families. Services include treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and substance use disorders.
"We don't fault the VA for these problems, but we are concerned that veterans and their families are not receiving the services they need in a timely manner," said Jeannie Campbell, the National Council's Executive Vice President and a veteran. "We hope the VA sees our community behavioral health organizations as resources to extend and supplement their mental health and substance use treatment services."
The survey finds that 90 percent of respondents currently provide mental health and substance use services to veterans, reservists and National Guard. Respondents serve an average of more than 70 veterans, service members and their families a month. Two-thirds of responding organizations have veterans on staff and some provide peer-to-peer support for veterans and service members.
Respondents cited the consequences of not meeting the needs of veterans, service members and their families. For example, Indiana received 69 calls from returning de-activated soldiers that involved suicide attempts during the first six months of 2009. Six of those returning service members ultimately died. Respondents in other states reported problems of domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, unemployment, and criminal justice system involvement.
More information and a survey report is available by contacting the National Council at