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Publication Briefs

Study Suggests Minority of OEF/OIF Veterans Receive Recommended Treatment for PTSD


  • Only a minority of OEF/OIF Veterans with newly diagnosed PTSD received a recommended number and intensity of VA mental health treatment sessions within the first year of diagnosis.
  • Of the 49,425 OEF/OIF Veterans with newly diagnosed PTSD, only 9.5% attended >9 VA mental health treatment sessions in 15 weeks or less in the first year of diagnosis.
  • Overall, two-thirds of OEF/OIF Veterans who received new mental health diagnoses from any VA outpatient clinic had at least one follow-up VA mental health visit in the first year of diagnosis, including 80% of OEF/OIF Veterans with a new PTSD diagnosis and nearly 50% with mental health diagnoses other than PTSD.
  • Among the 35,547 OEF/OIF Veterans with new mental health diagnoses other than PTSD, 42.3% were diagnosed with a depressive disorder and 34.1% with an adjustment disorder. Overall, 60.3% received two or more new mental health diagnoses.
  • A significantly greater proportion of OEF/OIF Veterans with a new PTSD diagnosis were male, less than 25 years of age, never married, and had been in the Army or Marines versus other branches.

Multiple studies have reported a high prevalence of emerging mental health disorders ranging from 18.5% to 42% in OEF/OIF Veterans and soldiers. Early evidence-based mental health treatment has been shown to prevent mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from becoming chronic; however, studies also show that a substantial proportion of those suffering from mental health problems either do not access, delay, or fail to complete an adequate course of treatment. Despite VA's efforts to improve access to mental health care for OEF/OIF Veterans, there are no published reports evaluating their use of these services. This study examined OEF/OIF Veterans use of VA mental health services within the first year of receiving new mental health diagnoses. PTSD treatments endorsed by VA and supported by evidence typically require > 9 treatment sessions, ideally at weekly intervals. Investigators used VA data to identify 238,098 OEF/OIF Veterans who received VA healthcare services between 4/02 and 3/08, and used a 15-week treatment period (instead of 9 weeks) to account for variability in scheduling/re-scheduling visits.

" This study lacked data on the type of mental health treatment received by Veterans, as well as information about their use of non-VA mental health care.

This study was funded through Dr. Seal's HSR&D Career Development Transition Award. Drs. Seal, Maguen, Bertenthal, and Marmar are part of HSR&D's Program to Improve Care for Veterans with Complex Comorbid Conditions located in San Francisco.

PubMed Logo Seal K, Maguen S, Cohen B, Gima K, Metzler T, Ren L, Bertenthal D, and Marmar C. VA Mental Health Services Utilization in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans in the First Year of Receiving New Mental Health Diagnoses. Journal of Traumatic Stress February 2010;23(1):5-16.

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What are HSR Publication Briefs?

HSR requires notification by HSR-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR published articles. Visit the HSR citations database for a complete listing of HSR articles and presentations.

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