Veterans aren't always getting mental care they urgently need, report finds

Story highlights

  • A review of veteran care finds "world class" mental care, but veterans have a hard time accessing it
  • Over half of those who need care don't know that they do

(CNN)Thomas Burke Jr., a Marine who returned from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq to attend Yale Divinity School, has also done three tours in the Veterans Health Administration for mental health care and says he's experienced mixed results.

Burke, 28, served in the infantry. He said his first counselor, in 2011, didn't have much experience with combat veterans and wasn't much help. In 2012, he clicked with his second counselor, who "really cared and took time to get to know me and gave me enough of a baseline to productively go through my academics."
Before becoming a minister and providing mental care of his own, he tried to get back into counseling. But it was a "very negative experience," he said.
    "I went in, being vulnerable and laying out my problems, and they were dismissive and condescended to me and treated me like I am some victim and were not getting to the bottom of the problem and essentially said 'thanks for telling us,' " Burke said. "Imagine what damage that can do to veterans who seek help.
    "It's hard for me to badmouth the VA, because there are a lot of good people there who are trying to help and do care about vets, but a lot of people I talk with do badmouth them," Burke said.
    Many Americans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars need mental health care, but they aren't always getting enough from the Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration, according to the results of a congressionally mandated investigation released Wednesday.
    About 4 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest sustained US military operations in history. A disproportionate number have come back with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, research shows. The number of suicides for veterans of these wars has reached a record. The VA has not always been able to handle this crushing need for services.
    But when veterans get mental health care from the VA, it is of "comparable or superior quality" to the kinds of care available elsewhere.
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