Millions of veterans have health challenges as a result of their service. Many face a difficult return to civilian life and struggle with finding the right resources for their needs.
The medical system has a community wellness Canada program to provide health care outside the hospital. This resource lists providers and information on how to access the services.
Many veterans who screen positive for mental health needs or have a reported diagnosis do not perceive a need for care. About half of those with an assessed need do not seek care.
The committee’s survey and site visit interviews revealed various obstacles to accessing mental health care. Many of these obstacles relate to misunderstanding the relationship between Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) disability compensation benefits and VA health care. In addition, veterans in rural locations often have difficulty accessing services due to distance and transportation issues.
Respondents to the committee’s survey who use VA mental health care report high satisfaction with available providers and services. This is particularly true for psychiatrists, with most respondents, satisfied with their availability. However, those with higher levels of depression and PTSD are more likely to report difficulties and dissatisfaction with access. These data suggest that improvements to the accessibility of mental health care are needed.
As veterans transition from active duty to civilian life, they must re-establish a sense of community and find ways to connect with others. Many resources exist that help them do just that.
In addition, many healthcare organizations focus on the well-being of veterans and their families. These non-governmental groups conduct research, dialogue, and lobby for policies that improve healthcare options for those who have served in the military.
A disproportionate number of veterans live in rural areas. The VA’s Office of Rural Health provides various resources to address their unique healthcare needs.
Some veterans have specialized healthcare needs. These include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, acid reflux, and PTSD. Sometimes, these conditions can be aggravated by poor access to healthcare services in rural areas.
In these situations, the VA provides a range of healthcare options.
Peer specialists are a valuable part of this team. Their unique qualifications and experience can be a bridge for Veteran clients who have difficulty engaging with their healthcare teams. They can also be a source of empathy. The peer-to-peer relationship can be a powerful tool for the client to feel like “this person gets me.” This can provide them with a sense of connection and purpose. This can be a life-changing experience for the specialist as well. Many peer support specialists are veterans themselves.
Health Care Organizations
The VA has three core strengths that distinguish its healthcare services from those of the private sector: systemwide clinical expertise related to service-connected illnesses, a team approach to primary care where the veteran is at the center of a “team” including a primary care provider, an RN care manager, and an LPN/health tech; and a holistic view of the veteran’s health.
In addition to the VA hospital network, veterans can access VA community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs), community living centers, Vet Centers, and domiciliaries. These facilities care for chronic diseases, physical disabilities, psychological injuries, mental illness, and substance use disorders.
For rural veterans, the VA works through the Office of Rural Health to promote a collaborative partnership between the federal government and local communities to develop additional access points for healthcare services in communities where they are needed. This includes partnering with local hospitals to provide telehealth clinical access.