Behavioral Health Treatment Receipt Among a Community Sample of Young Adult Veterans

Published in: The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on September 20, 2016

by Eric R. Pedersen, Grant N. Marshall, Jeremy Kurz

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Research Questions

  1. What proportion of young veterans both within and outside the Veterans Affairs healthcare system experience behavioral health care problems that may require treatment?
  2. How many receive the treatment they need?

Young adult veterans are at risk for behavioral health problems such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance misuse. Despite this, studies of veterans within the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System (VA) indicate that about half of those warranting treatment receive it in any form, with few receiving an adequate dose of care. For this study, the behavioral health screening status and behavioral health usage (including care outside of VA settings) among a community sample of 812 young adult veterans recruited from the Internet is described. Although approximately 70% of the sample screened positive for behavioral health problems, only one fifth to three fifths of those screening positive reported any mental health or substance use treatment in the past year, with one third or less receiving a dose of minimally adequate psychotherapy or psychotropic care. Findings expand on prior work and suggest that more effort is necessary to engage young veterans in behavioral health services.

Key Findings

  • About 70 percent of young veterans reported screening positive for at least one behavioral health problem, with overlap of many conditions.
  • About 45 percent of those who screened positive for a behavioral health problem also screened positive for hazardous alcohol or cannabis use.
  • One-third or fewer of the young veterans that screened positive for behavioral health concerns reported receiving minimally adequate behavioral health care, suggesting there may be missed opportunities in getting some young veterans to initiate or continue treatment.
  • About 60 percent of young veterans surveyed had obtained care from a community-based provider since discharge, and about 10 percent only used community providers within the past year.
  • Mental health clinics, both within and outside the VA, need to be able to handle the behavioral health needs of young veterans.

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