Large-scale health care systems such as the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have recently invested heavily in the expansion of psychotherapy services. This study examined longitudinal changes in use of psychotherapy at the VHA during a period of substantial programmatic change targeting increased availability and quality of mental health care.
This retrospective cohort study used data from the VHA National Patient Care Database outpatient treatment files to identify patients with a new-onset diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder during fiscal years (FYs) 2004 (N=424,428), 2007 (N=494,318), and 2010 (N=583,733). Use of psychotherapy during the 12 months after diagnosis was assessed.
The proportion of patients receiving any psychotherapy increased across the three study time points (FY 2004, 21%; FY 2007, 22%; and FY 2010, 27%). Amount of psychotherapy also increased such that with time a growing proportion of patients received eight or more psychotherapy sessions. The median time between diagnosis and start of psychotherapy decreased from 56 to 47 days from FY 2004 to FY 2010. Consistent with VHA expansion efforts, more substantial increases in psychotherapy reach, amount, and timeliness occurred between FY 2007 and 2010 than between FY 2004 and FY 2007.
These findings highlight recent increases in the use of VHA psychotherapy and correspond to substantial efforts to improve access to mental health services. Despite these advances, most newly diagnosed patients received no psychotherapy or a low-intensity amount of psychotherapy. Additional efforts to promote veteran engagement in needed mental health services appear warranted.