Survey: Civilian Psychologists Struggle To Treat Military Personnel, Veterans

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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A new survey by the RAND Corporation reveals that civilian health care providers are unequipped to provide psychological therapy and treatment military personnel.

A big part of the problem: they don’t understand military culture.

RAND used a sample size of 522 psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers across the United States to assess their cultural competency, finding that only 13 percent met the minimum for comprehending military mores, or that specific illnesses are closely linked to the military, such as PTSD and depression.

On the other hand, civilian health care workers at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or military facilities display a much higher knowledge. Up to 70 percent displayed a high competency in military culture. However, that number drops to 24 percent for those involved in the Defense Department’s (DOD) health insurance program.

And further, with neither VA nor DOD health insurance affiliation, the number plummets to eight percent. This trend suggests that unless the DOD and VA continue to expand their facilities, military personnel and veterans may be out of luck for satisfactory treatment.

“Veterans and their family members face unique challenges, and addressing their needs requires understanding military culture as well as their mental health challenges,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America. “It’s crucial that our civilian mental health providers acquire the training and perspective they need to guide their practice in the care of our military and veteran population.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing expressed dismay at the findings, especially given that Congress passed legislation early in August to expand healthcare options for Veterans, allowing them to access non-VA facilities. If the findings are correct, Congress may have just made the problem worse. Part of the reason why demand existed for the bill is that civilian medical services are often much closer to where veterans live.

“I am very concerned about whether VA and local communities are prepared with the resources, policies and training to help veterans in serious crisis,” said Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray at the hearing, according to the Military Times. “While our men and women in uniform have the courage to come forward and ask for help, VA must be there with not only high-quality and timely care but also the right type of care.”

The Department of Defense launched an online course earlier this year for non-military healthcare providers on military culture, but it will likely take years before tangible educational effects arrive.

For the more immediate future, Rand researchers recommended that healthcare providers at least include information on file about whether their workers are capable of treating military personnel or not, so that veterans and military personnel can be aware of the limitations right from the start.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald on Friday reaffirmed his commitment to a full reorganization of the agency, especially to reform healthcare. “We are approaching this reorganization as quickly and aggressively as I’ve ever done anything before,” McDonald said in an interview with Military Times.

“This has never been done before in government.”

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Jonah Bennett