veteran talking to therapist

Understanding the Barriers to Mental Healthcare Access for Veterans

Those who have served in the military have often been exposed to horrible and life-threatening experiences. Living through these types of events can cause veterans to be at risk for several mental health issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, and suicide.

As many as one in every three veterans suffer from a mental health disorder. However, less than half of those veterans who need mental health care ever receive it. Keep reading to learn more about the possible barriers preventing this demographic from getting the care they need.

Show veterans you’re available to help. Learn about Ravel Mental Health.

Mental Health Risks Among Veterans

Rates of mental illness are disproportionately high among American veterans, especially those who have served in the most recent wars, including the Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the Vietnam War. Among the primary mental health concerns for veterans are:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Veterans who have been exposed to traumatic events, such as military combat or sexual assault, are more likely to develop PTSD and suffer from its adverse effects, including difficulty sleeping, intense feelings of anger, and constantly feeling “on guard.” In a recent study, 12.9% of U.S. veterans were diagnosed with PTSD, compared to just 6.8% of the general population.


Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions among veterans. Exposure to combat, serious injury, natural disaster, or sexual assault are factors that can cause depression in veterans. When veterans suffer from depression, it can negatively impact their ability to perform everyday tasks, personal relationships, and professional life. It is estimated that at least 16% of veterans suffer from depression.


Some veterans suffer from anxiety that keeps them from getting out and enjoying hobbies they used to enjoy. Crowds or unfamiliar places can be overwhelming. Roughly 10% of veterans report having an anxiety disorder. 


Veteran suicide is one of the greatest crises in the present day. According to the latest data, 17 veterans die by suicide every day – or about 14% of the total suicides in America. There is no one single reason that veterans believe suicide is their only option. However, research shows there is a correlation between suicide and substance use disorders and untreated mental health conditions.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are caused for blunt external force – generally from explosions or combat – and are common among veterans returning home from the Iraq War. Symptoms of mild or moderate TBI include mood changes, difficulty sleeping, brain fog, and reduced motor function. Severe TBI can cause agitation and significantly impact one’s motor control and ability to speak.

According to the Department of Defense, between 2000 and 2017, more than 375,000 military members were diagnosed with TBI. More than 90% were mild or moderate cases, while only 1% were severe cases.

Barriers to Mental Healthcare Amongst Veterans

Even though mental health treatment options for veterans are more effective and accessible than ever, veterans still face multiple roadblocks to receiving the care they need.

Why is this the case? A variety of factors, including stigma, logistical limitations, and lack of high-quality options, play a part. 

  1. Stigma

Many service members don’t seek out treatment due to the stigma associated with receiving mental health care. Seeking help can be seen as a sign of weakness or a source of shame among many veterans, both on a personal level and a cultural level. There is also a fear that attending therapy sessions could negatively affect their careers or their family lives.

Unfortunately, these attitudes only contribute to the individual’s anxiety and can increase drug or alcohol abuse.

  • Logistical Limitations

Another barrier for veterans is the travel distance to treatment centers and a lack of transportation or gas money. Nearly one-quarter of veterans live in rural areas and face additional challenges when it comes to accessing treatment.

  • Lack of High-Quality Options

A lack of therapists trained in effective treatment methods specific to veterans’ needs is a barrier that often causes clients to withdraw from treatment. There is also a commonly held belief that therapy will be ineffective, leading veterans to be resistant to enter treatment to begin with.

  • Career Impacts and Cost of Care

Even if a veteran decides to seek treatment, taking time off from work for therapy sessions can affect their financial stability, leading to more anxiety. In addition, the cost of treatment, especially through a private practice, can be another deterrent.

  • Making Appointments

For many veterans, it can be a struggle to make appointments due to scheduling conflicts. Furthermore, the process of simply making an appointment can be burdensome for someone struggling with depression or anxiety.

Breaking Down the Barriers

Removing the barriers to access to mental health care is crucial to helping veterans in America. Here’s what therapists can do to help.

1. Get Specialized Training

Dealing with the stresses of service and reintegrating into civilian life have emotional impacts on veterans. These emotional stressors often follow veterans and their families well into their post-service lives. To adequately address these unique needs, therapists can take training courses to learn about military culture, evidence-based treatments for veterans, and how to identify mental health issues specific to these individuals.

For therapists who have not had the opportunity to provide services to veterans before, trainings and certificate programs can cover unfamiliar topics such as working with PTSD and performing a risk assessment for suicide in veterans.

2. Offer Teletherapy

Many veterans struggle to access the care they need, whether it be due to stigma or logistical challenges. By providing online therapy services, practices can offer better, timelier care to veterans, particularly those in rural, remote, or medically underserved areas. In many instances, it is easier for veterans with disabilities to participate in teletherapy than in-person sessions.

Several studies show that the effectiveness of teletherapy is nearly equivalent to in-person sessions. Online therapy also has lower no-show rates, which can help keep veterans on track with treatment.

3. Reach Out

Therapists who have experience working with veterans or special training in areas relevant to veterans should make this clear on their websites and other promotional materials. If veterans don’t see themselves or their problems in the language used by providers, it’s easy for them to write off making an appointment because they assume the therapist won’t be able to help them.

4. Streamline the Booking Process

Utilizing a digital appointment scheduling platform makes it easier for veterans to schedule appointments that fit within their schedules. While it is good to keep scheduling appointments over the phone an option, it can be challenging and sometimes frustrating for clients. Therapists can support veterans by giving them the flexibility to book, edit, or reschedule appointments easily.

5. Join the Veterans Affairs Community Care Network

When the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department cannot provide necessary care for veterans, it utilizes community providers through the Community Care Network (CCN) program. The VA CCN is beneficial to both providers and veterans. Perhaps the biggest advantage is a streamlined process for individuals to receive high-quality care when they need it. The network also expands the treatment options available to veterans who are seeking services in their area.

Are you passionate about helping veterans heal? Learn more about how Ravel Mental Health can help.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top