Rand: Troops Need Better Mental Health Care Access

Rand: Troops Need Better Mental Health Care Access

Photo by: U.S. Army/Spc. David N. Beckstrom

The Military Health System should increase service members’ access to mental health care that is integrated and comprehensive, according to a recent report from the Rand Corp.

There are “significant opportunities to enhance behavioral health care in the Military Health System,” the report found. “Timely access to behavioral health care that meets the needs of service members is necessary for ensuring the readiness of the force,” the report says.

In 2021, 16% of soldiers had a diagnosis of one or more mental health conditions, according to the Army’s most recent Health of the Force report.

Stigma remains a barrier to service members’ access to mental health care, the report found. Soldiers experience “attitudinal and cultural concerns” to seeking care for mental health, and they worry about their “military leaders’ negative perception of soldiers who seek behavioral health care and the possibility of career repercussions,” according to a 2017 Rand study that’s cited in this new report.

Mental health care is especially tricky because a service member may receive care at military treatment facilities as well as care from private sector providers. However, “collecting and reporting … data on visit frequency for both direct and private-sector care ... could inform changes to clinical practice,” the Rand report found.

Ensuring that soldiers with a new mental health diagnosis receive prompt follow-up appointments is essential to better outcomes, according to Army studies cited in the report.

“The Defense Health Agency reports for military treatment facilities the percentage of patients with a new diagnosis of PTSD or depression who receive at least three follow-up appointments within 90 days. … This frequency of follow-up visits has been associated with better outcomes in Army studies compared with fewer than three visits,” Rand found.

As the military’s largest and most diverse branch, evaluating and correcting any potential health disparities in the Army is key. “Black service members in the Army … are overrepresented among all service members in the branch,” the report found. “Research has revealed disparities in the quality of health care that racial and ethnic minority patients receive in civilian settings, as well as in their treatment outcomes. It is important to determine whether there are similar trends in the Military Health System and, if there are, to address them swiftly.” 

Addressing barriers to mental health care and gaps in research will ensure that soldiers receive proper care. “Addressing current research gaps and pursuing new lines of innovative, evidence-based research would provide the clarity that the Military Health System needs to inform and strengthen ongoing initiatives to improve BH care access and quality for service members and their dependents across care settings,” the report found.

Read the full report here.