Most community-based mental health providers are not well prepared to take care of the special needs of military veterans and their families, according to a new study by the RAND Corporation that was commissioned by United Health Foundation in collaboration with the Military Officers Association of America.
The exploratory report, based on a national survey of mental health providers, found few community-based care providers met criteria for military cultural competency or used evidence-based approaches to treat problems commonly seen among veterans.
“Our findings suggest that community-based mental health providers are not as well prepared as they need to be to address the needs of veterans and their families,” said Terri Tanielian, the study’s lead author and a senior social research analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “There is a need for increased training among community-based providers in high-quality treatment techniques for PTSD and other disorders that are more common among veterans.”
Although the Department of Defense and Veterans Health Administration in recent years have increased employment of mental health professionals, many veterans may seek services from practitioners in the civilian sector, often because they are located closer to their homes. In addition, policymakers have expanded veterans’ access to community-based health providers as a way to meet demands, given capacity constraints in the VA health system.
“Our veterans have served and sacrificed for our nation and deserve the very best care,” said Kate Rubin, president, United Health Foundation. “We hope this study will focus attention on the opportunity to better prepare the mental health workforce to meet the unique needs of veterans and their families.”
Recent military veterans are more likely than the general population to suffer from major depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress disorders, two conditions prevalent among people who have deployed to battle zones.
RAND researchers surveyed a convenience sample of 522 psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and licensed counselors to determine whether they had the training needed to be sensitive to the needs of veterans and whether they used evidence-based methods to treat major depressive disorder and PTSD.
Just 13 percent of the mental health providers surveyed met the study’s readiness criteria for both cultural competency and delivering evidence-based care. Care providers who worked in community settings were less prepared than providers who are affiliated with the VA or military health system.
While 70 percent of care providers working in a military or VA setting had high military cultural competency, only 24 percent of providers participating in the TRICARE network, the Department of Defense’s health insurance program, and 8 percent of providers without VA or TRICARE affiliation met the threshold for cultural competency.
Nearly one quarter of care providers practicing within 10 miles of a VA or military treatment facility met the threshold for high military cultural competency, while just 15 percent of providers practicing at more distant locations met the threshold.
“Veterans and their family members face unique challenges, and addressing their needs requires understanding military culture as well as their mental health challenges,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America. “It’s crucial that our civilian mental health providers acquire the training and perspective they need to guide their practice in the care of our military and veteran population.”
The study recommends organizations that maintain registries or care provider networks include information about mental health practitioners’ ability to properly treat the special needs of military and veteran populations.
In addition, researchers encourage policymakers to expand access to effective training in evidence-based treatment approaches and create incentives to encourage care providers to use these strategies in their routine practice.
The study, “Ready to Serve: An Assessment of Community-Based Provider Capacity to Deliver Competent, Quality Care to Veterans and Their Families,” is available at www.rand.org.
Other authors of the study are Coreen Farris, Caroline Epley, Carrie M. Farmer, Eric Robinson, Charles C. Engel and Michael William Robbins and Lisa H. Jaycox.
About RAND Corporation
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND Health is the nation’s largest independent health policy research program, with a broad research portfolio that focuses on health care costs, quality and public health preparedness, among other topics.
About United Health Foundation
Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed more than $240 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org.
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is the nation’s largest officers association with more than 380,000 members from every branch of service, including active duty, retired, National Guard, Reserve, and former officers and their families and survivors. MOAA is a nonprofit and politically nonpartisan organization and an influential force in promoting a strong national defense. MOAA represents the interests of service members and their families in every stage of their lives and careers. For those who are not eligible to join MOAA, Voices for America’s Troops is a nonprofit MOAA affiliate that supports a strong national defense. For more information, visit www.moaa.org or www.voicesfortroops.org.