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Mental Health Providers are Unprepared to Treat Veterans

Update Date: Nov 12, 2014 10:19 AM EST

Military veterans and their families might not be getting the best kind of care for their special needs due to fact that many community-based mental health providers are not prepared, a new study conducted by the non-profit RAND Corporation reported.

"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 the lead author of the study, Terri Tanielian, a senior social research analyst at RAND. "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."

For this study, the researchers surveyed 522 psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and licensed counselors to see if these specialists were capable of detecting and treating major depressive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which are two mental health illnesses that are commonly diagnosed in veterans. The researchers also assessed whether or not these mental health providers needed training specifically for treating veterans. The providers either worked in a community setting or were associated with the military and the Department of Veteran Affairs.

Overall, only 13 percent of the sample met the researchers' criteria. These health care providers used evidence-based methods to effectively treat the two mental illnesses. 70 percent of the health care providers that worked in a military or VA setting had high military cultural competency. Providers who worked in a community setting appeared to be less prepared to care for military veterans and their families when compared to providers who were tied to the military or VA health system.

"Our veterans have served and sacrificed for our nation and deserve the very best care," said Kate Rubin, president of United Health Foundation, which commissioned this study in collaboration with the Military Officers Association of America. "We hope this study will focus attention on the opportunity that exists to better prepare our mental health workforce to meet the unique needs of veterans and their families."

"Veterans and their family members face unique challenges, and addressing their needs requires understanding military culture as well as their mental health challenges," added retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America, according to the press release. "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, "Ready to Serve: An Assessment of Community-Based Provider Capacity to Deliver Competent, Quality Care to Veterans and Their Families," is available here.

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