West Texas VA Health Care System
Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Veterans
Since 2001, 2.4 million active duty and reserve military personal were deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of this group, nearly 730,000 (30%) men and women will have a mental health condition requiring treatment. Studies have shown that 18.5% of all OEF/OIF Veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, or both combined. Recent efforts have focused on expanding capacity inside the VA system. In August 2012, President Obama issued an executive order aimed at Improving Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans, Service Members and Military Families. Our Veterans deserve the mental health services they need to support their incredible resilience and move toward recovery. Research has shown that psychological interventions can help prevent the long term, chronic and devastating psychological consequences of one of the most serious costs of war – Post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychologists provide services to help returning Veterans deal with the symptoms of PTSD. Unless treated, PTSD, depression, and TBI can have far-reaching and damaging consequences. Individuals afflicted with these conditions face higher risks for other psychological problems and for attempting suicide. They have higher rates of unhealthy behaviors — such as smoking, overeating— and higher rates of physical health problems and mortality. Individuals with these conditions also tend to miss more work or report being less productive. These conditions can impair relationships, disrupt marriages, aggravate the difficulties of parenting, and cause problems in children that may extend the consequences of combat trauma across generations. There is also a possible link between these conditions and homelessness. The damaging consequences from lack of treatment or undertreatment suggest that those afflicted, as well as society at large, stand to gain substantially if more have access to effective care. Ultimately, this issue reaches beyond DOD and the VA into the general U.S. health care system and society at large. Many Veterans seek care through private employer-sponsored health plans and in the public sector. The broader health care system must adapt to the needs of this population if the United States is to meet its obligations to military Veterans now and in the future.