The study is published in the latest issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
According to background information in the article, more than 230,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans sought treatment for the first time at VA healthcare facilities nationwide between 2002 and 2008.
More than 20 percent of these veterans, almost 50,000, received a new PTSD diagnosis. Treatments that have been shown to be effective for PTSD typically require 10-12 weekly sessions.
VA follows these recommendations; however, fewer than 10 percent of those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with newly diagnosed PTSD complete this recommended “dose” of PTSD treatment.
When the timeframe was expanded to a year rather than four months, fewer than 30 percent of the veterans completed the recommended course of treatment.
The study showed that there are groups of veterans who are less likely to receive adequate care than others, such as male veterans (compared to female veterans), veterans under 25 years old, veterans who received their PTSD diagnoses from primary care clinics (requiring referral to a mental health program), and veterans living in rural areas.
Dr. Karen Seal, head researcher for the study and practitioner at the San Francisco Veteran Affairs Medical Center, says that while the majority of veterans with PTSD attend at least one mental health followup visit, there are still substantial barriers to care that prevent the majority from completing what is considered an adequate course of PTSD treatment.
Many of the obstacles are system-level or are personal barriers resulting in lack of patient followup on appointments, etc.
However, the study doesn’t account for care that veterans may be receiving outside of the VA, such as care received at Vet Centers or other community-based clinics.
Still, experts conclude there is further need for the VA and other health care systems to develop new and innovative ways to overcome barriers to care in delivering these effective mental health treatments.
As such, the VA has taken recent initiatives to improve care for PTSD potentially improving intervention and outcomes beyond the cited study endpoint and analysis.