Veterans’ Experiences Initiating VA-Based Mental Health Care


This article discusses the experiences of military veterans initiating care from mental health services. A study aimed to identify barriers to access and what factors influence veterans’ decisions to initiate care.


Military veterans who could benefit from mental health services often do not access them. Research has revealed a range of barriers associated with initiating United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care, including those specific to accessing mental health care (e.g., fear of stigmatization). More work is needed to streamline access to VA mental health-care services for veterans. In the current study, we interviewed 80 veterans from 9 clinics across the United States about initiation of VA mental health care to identify barriers to access. Results suggested that five predominant factors influenced veterans’ decisions to initiate care: (a) awareness of VA mental health services; (b) fear of negative consequences of seeking care; (c) personal beliefs about mental health treatment; (d) input from family and friends; and (e) motivation for treatment. Veterans also spoke about the pathways they used to access this care. The four most commonly reported pathways included (a) physical health-care appointments; (b) the service connection disability system; (c) non-VA care; and (d) being mandated to care. Taken together, these data lend themselves to a model that describes both modifiers of, and pathways to, VA mental health care. The model suggests that interventions aimed at the identified pathways, in concert with efforts designed to reduce barriers, may increase initiation of VA mental health-care services by veterans.

Full Reference

Bovin, M. J., Miller, C. J., Koenig, C. J., Lipschitz, J. M., Zamora, K. A., Wright, P. B., Pyne, J. M. and Burgess, J. F., 2018. Veterans' experiences initiating VA-based mental health care. Psychological Services.