The Quality of Mental Health Care for Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom

Published in: Medical Care, v. 51, no.1, Jan. 2013, p. 84-89

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2012

by Susan M. Paddock, Abigail Woodroffe, Katherine E. Watkins, Melony E. Sorbero, Brad Smith, Thomas E. Mannle, Jr., Jake Solomon, Harold Alan Pincus

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BACKGROUND: Some Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans experience serious mental health (MH) problems. As OEF/OIF soldiers leave active military duty, their growing numbers pose a challenge to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in delivering high-quality mental health/substance-use disorder (MH/SUD) care. OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the quality of MH/SUD care provided by the VA differs by OEF/OIF veteran status. METHODS: Veterans with selected MH/SUDs were identified from administrative records using diagnostic codes. OEF/OIF service was determined based on Defense Manpower Data Center separation files. Eleven processes of care and 7 utilization performance indicators were examined. Regression analyses were adjusted for veteran demographic and clinical characteristics to test for differences in care by OEF/OIF status. RESULTS: Of the 836,699 veterans with selected diagnoses who received MH/SUD treatment in FY2007, 52,870 (6.3%) were OEF/OIF veterans. In unadjusted analyses, OEF/OIF veterans were more likely to receive evidence-based care processes captured by 6 of the 11 dichotomous performance indicators examined; however, among those receiving psychotherapy encounters, OEF/OIF veterans received significantly fewer visits (6.9 vs. 9.7, P<0.0001). In adjusted analyses, only postdischarge follow-up remained meaningfully higher for OEF/OIF veterans. CONCLUSIONS: Efforts to maintain and/or increase OEF/OIF veteran participation in VA MH/SUD services should be informed by their characteristics, such as younger age and better physical health relative to other veterans.

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