In This Issue: Advancements in VA Mental Healthcare
Overview: VA Mental Healthcare
More than 1.7 million Veterans received treatment in VA’s mental health specialty program alone in fiscal year 2018. Mental health services for Veterans are available not only in VA's mental health specialty clinics, but also in primary care clinics, nursing homes, and residential care facilities. VA offers a wide range of mental health services to Veterans with mental illnesses that can include anxiety disorders (i.e., PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, in addition to traumatic brain injury (TBI), military sexual trauma (MST), substance use, and suicide prevention. Those with serious mental health problems (i.e., bipolar disorder, schizophrenia) may take part in specialized programs such as mental health intensive case management, day centers, work programs, and psychosocial rehabilitation. Moreover, VA now integrates mental health staff into Patient Aligned Care Teams (PACTs) at most of VA's larger primary care venues, allowing those care teams to provide services without needing a separate consult with mental health providers. Emergency mental healthcare also is available 24/7 at VA medical centers. Facilities that do not have 24-hour emergency rooms must provide emergency services through a local non-VA hospital.1
In addition to clinical services, VA supports a comprehensive mental health research portfolio, including HSR&D and QUERI (Quality Enhancement Research Initiative) research. For example, HSR&D’s Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research (CeMHOR) works to increase Veterans’ access to and engagement in evidence-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment, while HSR&D’s newly funded Suicide Prevention Research Impact NeTwork (SPRINT) is focused on accelerating suicide prevention research that, ultimately, will reduce suicide among Veterans. There also are two QUERI Partnered Evaluation Initiatives on suicide prevention and suicide risk identification, respectively.
In addition, HSR&D funds a broad spectrum of research focused on mental health, including enhancing social connectedness among Veterans at high risk of suicide, increasing reproductive life planning for women Veterans with mental illness, improving treatment for anxiety in primary care, and evaluating adherence to technology-assisted depression treatment. Projects such as these – and the ongoing HSR&D studies below – will lead the way toward improving the mental health and care of Veterans.