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Transition from military to VHA care: psychiatric health services for Iraq/Afghanistan combat-wounded.

Copeland LA, Zeber JE, Bingham MO, Pugh MJ, Noël PH, Schmacker ER, Lawrence VA. Transition from military to VHA care: psychiatric health services for Iraq/Afghanistan combat-wounded. Journal of affective disorders. 2011 Apr 1; 130(1-2):226-30.

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OBJECTIVE: Veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF) report high rates of mental distress especially affective disorders. Ensuring continuity of care across institutions is a priority for both the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), yet this process is not monitored nor are medical records integrated. This study assessed transition from DoD to VHA and subsequent psychiatric care of service members traumatically injured in OEF/OIF. METHODS: Inpatients at a DoD trauma treatment facility discharged in FY02-FY06 (n = 994) were tracked into the VHA via archival data (n = 216 OEF/OIF veterans). Mental health utilization in both systems was analyzed. RESULTS: VHA users were 9% female, 15% Hispanic; mean age 32 (SD = 10; range 19-59). No DoD inpatients received diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 21% had other mental health diagnoses, primarily drug abuse. In the VHA, 38% sought care within 6 months of DoD discharge; 75% within 1 year. VHA utilization increased over time, with 88-89% of the transition cohort seeking care in FY07-FY09. Most accessed VHA mental health services (81%) and had VHA psychiatric diagnoses (71%); half met criteria for depression (27%) or PTSD (38%). Treatment retention through FY09 was significantly greater for those receiving psychiatric care: 98% vs 62% of those not receiving psychiatric care (x(2) = 53.3; p < .001). LIMITATIONS: DoD outpatient data were not available. The study relied on administrative data. CONCLUSIONS: Although physical trauma led to hospitalization in the DoD, high rates of psychiatric disorders were identified in subsequent VHA care, suggesting delay in development or recognition of psychiatric problems.

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