Six Things to Know About Veterans’ Behavioral Health Needs in Minnesota

11/10/17 by Nora Johnson

​Last year, in response to reported gaps in the Veteran mental and behavioral health system, the Minnesota Legislature commissioned a needs assessment of Veterans in Minnesota. Wilder Research worked with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) to conduct such an assessment. We looked at existing data, interviewed providers, and surveyed nearly 1,000 Minnesota Veterans to identify mental and behavioral health needs, the resources available to them, and the opportunities to address any unmet needs of this population.

Here are six takeaways from that assessment.

1. Many Veterans are accessing the supports they need. 

Overall, 77 percent of Minnesota Veteran survey respondents reported feeling they have the support they need, including those who have received services in the last two years (24%) and those that have not (53%). The most common types of services received are one-on-one counseling and Federal services.

2. Specific populations of Minnesota Veterans feel they are not getting the help they need.

Several groups have an increased risk for mental and chemical health issues, including women, Veterans of color, Veterans with a disability, younger Veterans, and combat Veterans. Some of these groups were much less likely to report having the support they need, including: women Veterans and Veterans with a disability, including concussion/TBI. 

3. Statewide shortages in behavioral health providers especially affect greater Minnesota.

Respondents identified a shortage of trained providers, especially psychiatric prescribers, and an inability to retain or recruit prescribers as some of the primary gaps in services. Survey respondents and key informants in greater Minnesota were more likely to say that services were not available in their area. 

4. Community-based service providers may not provide support appropriate to Veterans.

Although most Veterans are accessing services through agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many are accessing support from agencies that may not specialize in working with Veterans. Veterans who had served in combat or war zones and providers from greater Minnesota were more likely to say services were not good with Veteran-specific issues.

5. Informal social supports are essential to Veteran behavioral health.

The Minnesota Veterans Survey, along with the analysis of existing data, found that social connectedness protects against behavioral health issues. Informal supports and peer-to-peer supports were among the most preferred supports and also the most commonly cited support Veterans felt they were missing. Survey respondents reporting strong community belonging and social supports were significantly less likely to have behavioral health diagnoses and symptoms. 

6. Sexual assault experiences increase behavioral health risks for both men and women. 

Overall, 19 percent of Minnesota Veteran survey respondents reported experiencing sexual assault in their lives. While the proportion of women reporting a sexual assault experience was greater than men, the number of women and men reporting are roughly equal. However, men and women tend to have very different sexual assault experiences in relation to their service. Among women reporting a sexual assault experience, 80 percent were assaulted during their service, while 75 percent of men reported experiencing sexual assault before their service. This difference suggests that specialized services for both men and women experiencing sexual assault are essential.

What can you do?

While many Veterans report that the current system is providing the support they need, there are some important gaps in services for Veterans. As these gaps are identified, MDVA continues to work with state and federal partners to rapidly identify requirements to fill those gaps. If you or your organization work with Veterans, or if members of your community or family are Veterans, here are a few things you can do to provide Veterans with better support.

  • Collaborate with other organizations that serve Veterans. Provider shortages cannot be addressed by service agencies alone. However, agencies could enhance collaborations with other efforts to address these concerns. By collaborating with other systems working to address the mental health needs of all Minnesotans, Veteran-serving agencies can enhance the supports provided to Veterans.
  • Explore training in working with Veterans. It is important that mental health and behavioral health providers are trained to identify and address conditions and concerns common to Veterans. If you’re a provider, a great first step is including a question about military service in your intake forms. If you already ask your clients about military experience, you can begin to familiarize yourself with military culture. This video is a great place to start.
  • Seek out information on best ways family, friends, and peers can provide informal supports to Veterans. If you are a friend or family member of a Veteran, consider Homefront Online Classes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). If you are a Veteran interested in receiving or providing peer support to fellow Veterans, consider the VA’s Peer Support program or contact your local County Veterans Service Officer to find other resources available to you. 

Read the full report.