Early mental health treatment after military deployment may reduce chronic mental health problems. The authors described time to, and predictors of time to, initiation of a first primary care visit, a first mental health outpatient visit, and minimally adequate mental health care (eight or more outpatient visits within 12 months) among veterans with psychiatric diagnoses.
The authors conducted a retrospective cohort analysis of medical records of veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) health care, had a psychiatric diagnosis, and had used primary or mental health outpatient care between October 7, 2001, and September 30, 2011 (N=314,717).
The median time from the end of the last deployment to engagement in mental health care was over two years. More than three years postdeployment, 75% of the veterans in the VA system for at least one year had not engaged in minimally adequate mental health care. There was a median lag of nearly 7.5 years between initial mental health treatment session and initiation of minimally adequate mental health care. Men waited nearly two years longer than women to initiate minimally adequate mental health care. Younger age and minority racial or ethnic status were also associated with greater time to initial mental health outpatient visit and to minimally adequate mental health care.
Delays in initiating and completing minimally adequate mental health care by veterans using VA services highlight the importance of attending to the timing of care, particularly among newly returning veterans.