Most California Veterans Needing Mental Health Care Receive Inadequate Treatment

California ex-military who need mental health care either do not receive treatment or receive inadequate care, study finds.

California ex-military who need mental health care are receiving inadequate care, according to an study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, which found that from 2011 to 2013, 76% of California veterans in need of mental health care either did not receive treatment or received inadequate care.

The study, “The Mental Health Status of California Veterans,” found that the share of veterans who needed mental health care was no greater than that of the general population, which was counter to common perceptions that veterans are more likely than others to need mental health care. Because the number of women veterans was small, the study did not include women, but future studies will address the mental health needs of women veterans.

Researchers led by Linda Diem Tran, MPP, a graduate student researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, used data from the California Health Interview Survey for 2011 to 2013, which found 90,000 California veterans who had served in the military for at least 1 year (3.5% of the state’s veterans) needed mental health care. The comparable figure for nonveterans in the state was 3.9%. The study found that among veterans with mental health needs, 68.8% reported visiting a health professional for mental or emotional health. Among nonveterans who needed mental health care, 50.1% went without treatment.

Nearly 46% of all veterans with mental health needs did not receive adequate care, which was defined as four or more visits with a health professional and the use of prescription medications for mental health care within the previous year.

Tran noted that the data in her study were representative of the total population of veterans because the study is one of the few to make estimates based on all the veterans in California.

“It finds that the stereotype that veterans have more mental health needs than everyone else may not be true,” she said.

However, the study did find that veterans are more likely to consider suicide than nonveterans. Compared with 5.6% of nonveterans, 9.1% of California vets had seriously considered suicide. Vets are also disproportionately more likely to kill themselves, the data showed.

Among the study’s findings:

  • 3 in 5 veterans in need of mental health care are white
  • Approximately 20% in need of care are Latino—a high rate considering that Latinos make up only 14.9% of the veteran population
  • Nearly 4 in 5 were disabled because of a physical or mental health condition.
  • 1 in 4 with mental health conditions lived in poverty

Mental health problems have significant costs and consequences for veterans, their families, and communities. The study’s authors concluded that access to mental health services for California veterans must be increased and strategies identified to help them stay with treatment, and suggest that mental health screenings be integrating with services for physical health because a great majority of the state’s veterans utilize services of primary care doctors.