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Veteran's Mental Health Treatment: What Are the Options?

Veteran's Mental Health Treatment: What Are the Options?

When we think of a specific group of people who frequently identify with some of the most significant mental health needs, veterans are usually the first to come to mind. These individuals, who may have witnessed a variety of traumatic events, multiple transitions, physical injury, and the isolation that comes after separating from the military, are at extremely high-risk for experiencing a mental health condition. It’s estimated that 25% of all veterans experience mental illness, with some of the most common diagnoses ranging from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and cognitive impairment as a result of Traumatic Brain Injury. While the federal government and the Veteran’s Administration (VA) have become more accepting and assertive regarding these issues, access to mental health care for this group continues to be an issue. In this post, we will take a look at some of the options available to veterans and the pros and cons of each.

  • Mental health care through the VA: This is one of the most popular options, and for good reason: In recent years, the VA has placed a tremendous priority on addressing veteran mental health through emboldening treatment programs and bringing hundreds of mental health professionals into employment. After assessment and determining need for service, there is no cost, and veterans will be working with a clinician specifically trained in veterans’ mental health needs. However, the VA does have its cons. It’s widely documented that many veterans will experience lengthy waits prior to assessment and being linked with a therapist – an especially dangerous issue if a veteran needs immediate intervention. There’s also a lack of choice – as with community counseling agencies, veterans are frequently placed based on a therapist’s availability versus how well they will match meeting their specific needs.
  • Hot-line services: In general, this category describes a few different things – both crisis counseling and general support counseling, delivered to veterans, at no charge. The most well-known resource for this is the Veteran’s Crisis Line, although smaller communities may offer similar hotline services through community mental health clinics. While these services are immediate and free, their intent is not to manage long-term mental health conditions, but instead to serve as an emergency intervention. For a veteran who is feeling the need to talk to someone right away, hotlines are perfect – but if longer-term treatment is needed, the quality of service they provide won’t be sufficient.
  • Private therapists who specialize in veteran issues: Another option for veterans is private practice treatment – working directly with a counselor, face-to-face, who is knowledgeable about the issues related to veteran-status and transition. The benefits of this include speed of service and choice – a veteran will likely be able to connect quickly with a counselor and choose one that best meets their needs. The downside? Private practice treatment is costly, and if a veteran is relying on the VA for their healthcare, private treatment will likely not be covered. Although not available in every area, The Soldier's Project is an organization of private practitioners who DO offer free clinical services to veterans, making this a fantastic resource to check into prior to searching for self-pay therapy. 

The sacrifice made by veterans – not just their service, but the impacts of this – is an issue that we feel deserves special attention. When it comes to meeting the needs of veterans’ mental health, we think a blend of the above is the best approach – working with the VA, but using other options as they are needed. Above all else, understanding and supporting veterans to connect with mental health treatment is the only way we can start to eradicate this problem.



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Jennifer N.
Posted on 06/04/2017 by Jennifer N.

Jennifer is a writer for OpenCounseling. She has worked at a number of state and non-profit organizations, providing counseling, training, and policy development


 

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