Recent military conflicts have generated significantly more demand for treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as concerns about the adverse effects of stigma associated with specialty mental health care. This study examined the extent to which veterans diagnosed as having PTSD received treatment exclusively in primary care settings.
Administrative data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Connecticut Healthcare System for fiscal year 2010 were used to compare the proportions and characteristics of veterans with PTSD (N=4,144) who were treated exclusively in a primary care setting or a mental health specialty clinic.
Most (87%) veterans were treated in specialty mental health clinics, and 13% were treated exclusively in primary care. In contrast, 24% of veterans with any mental health diagnosis received treatment exclusively in primary care. Comorbid psychiatric diagnoses were much more prevalent among those treated in mental health specialty clinics than in primary care (86% versus 14%), and psychotropic medications were far more likely to be filled in mental health specialty clinics than in primary care (80% versus 36%). The percentage of veterans with service-connected disabilities did not differ between the two treatment settings.
Despite the VA’s successful expansion of mental health services in primary care, the vast majority of patients with PTSD received treatment in mental health specialty clinics. Stigma does not seem to keep veterans with PTSD from receiving care in specialty mental health settings in spite of the availability of services in primary care.