Where Veterans Can Get Care

Once veterans are ready to receive care, they must then navigate a sea of provider options.

Empty medical waiting room, photo by Sheri Swailes/Adobe Stock

Photo by Sheri Swailes/Adobe Stock

Finding motivation to receive treatment is just the first step on a veteran’s journey to recovery.

Next, they must decide where to go.

It’s a decision that can be challenging to navigate. Factors such as veteran status, duty requirements, discharge condition, and military branch can affect whether veterans are eligible for coverage through VA or DoD. Some community-based programs are available to all veterans, regardless of their discharge status or ability to pay. And for those with employer-sponsored health insurance, even more options are thrown in the mix, including care from private providers that accept insurance.

But quality factors should play into the decision of which provider to choose, too; not all care is created equal. A RAND study found that the VA system exceeds the private sector on many mental health quality measures.

Mental health providers who work mostly in a VA setting are significantly more likely to be extensively trained to use evidence-based practices, which studies show leads to better results and recovery for patients.

However, providers—even those within VA—aren’t one-size-fits-all. The best place to receive high-quality care will vary from veteran to veteran.

Recommended policy action

Increase capacity of highly trained providers.

VA, HHS, and DoD should continue their investment in requiring delivery of evidence-based treatments. Private-sector mental health systems and payers should improve training for community providers to help them better serve veterans.

Types of veterans’ mental health resources:

Department of Veterans Affairs

VA provides health care services to eligible veterans and some active-duty veterans. VA has taken significant steps to provide veterans with more-effective mental health care, including hiring more providers, expanding treatment options (such as telehealth), and improving quality measurement.

Within the VA health care system, there are nearly 200 specialized treatment programs for PTSD. Depression is usually treated in the primary care setting. Most VA patients are satisfied with the mental health care they receive.

More research on VA mental health care

Department of Defense

Active-duty military, eligible military retirees, some reserve-component members, and military families may be eligible to receive care through DoD’s military health system.

DoD delivers on-base services through military treatment facilities and clinics, as well as through civilian network providers for families and retirees.

More research on DoD mental health care

Private Care

Many veterans choose to receive care in private health systems or community-based programs. Overall, RAND research has shown that private providers were less prepared than VA providers to deliver high-quality mental health care to veterans.

That said, veterans receive a substantial amount of care from providers outside VA. While more research is needed on the quality of private care for veterans, VA has taken steps, such as creating toolkits and training programs, to help private providers treat veterans more effectively.

More research on private care for veterans