Veterans' Perceptions of Behavioral Health Care in the Veterans Health Administration

A National Survey

Published in: Psychiatric Services, v. 65, no. 8, Aug. 2014, p. 988-996

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014

by Kimberly A. Hepner, Susan M. Paddock, Katherine E. Watkins, Jake Solomon, Daniel M. Blonigen, Harold Alan Pincus

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OBJECTIVE: This study provided national estimates of perceptions of behavioral health care services among patients of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) with a diagnosis of bipolar I disorder, major depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or substance use disorder. METHODS: A stratified random sample of 6,190 patients completed telephone interviews from November 2008 through August 2009. Patients (N=5,185) who reported receiving VHA behavioral health care in the prior 12 months were asked about their need for housing and employment services, timeliness and recovery orientation of their care, satisfaction with care, and perceived improvement. RESULTS: Half of patients reported always receiving routine appointments as soon as requested, and 42% were highly satisfied with their VHA mental health care. Approximately 74% of patients reported being helped by the treatment they received, yet only 32% reported that their symptoms had improved. After controlling for covariates, the analyses showed that patients with a substance use disorder reported lower satisfaction with care and perceived their treatment to be less helpful compared with patients without a substance use disorder. CONCLUSIONS: Although matched sample comparison data were not available, the results showed that overall patient perceptions of VHA mental health care were favorable, but there was significant room for improvement across all areas of assessment. A majority reported being helped by treatment, but few reported symptom improvement. Variations in perceptions among patients with different disorders suggest the potential importance of psychiatric diagnosis, particularly substance use disorder, in assessing patient perceptions of care.

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