Top Menu

Treatment of Substance Use Disorders, Mental Illness Varies Among Veterans


The type of care veterans receive for substance use disorders and mental illness varies around the country, according to a new study. No Veterans Affairs facilities consistently performed above or below average, the researchers found.

Only 16 percent of veterans with alcohol dependence are treated with drug therapy, while 60 percent of veterans with acute depression receive drug treatment, Medical News Today reports. Less than one-third of veterans diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder receive continuous treatment with antipsychotic drugs or mood stabilizers, the article notes.

“There is a need for substantial improvement in the care of these veterans, particularly with respect to ensuring the delivery of evidence-based treatments,” the researchers report in the journal Health Affairs.

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation, found the quality of care for veterans was similar to or better than the care given to comparable patients with private insurance, or those enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare.

“While the VA does a better job at providing mental health services than other health care systems, there is still substantial room for improvement,” lead researcher Dr. Katherine Watkins said in a news release. “With some changes, the VA could provide even better and more cost-effective care for the nation’s veterans, as well as serve as a model for other health care systems.”

According to RAND, the number of veterans diagnosed with mental illness and substance use disorders increased 38 percent between 2004 and 2008, to 906,394. The greatest rise was seen among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The study found treating U.S. veterans with substance use disorders and mental illness cost more than $12 billion in 2007. The average cost for treating a veteran with mental illness and substance use was $12,337, or 2.7 times the cost for an average veteran without these conditions.

5 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Vet 69
    Vet 69 / October 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    this is a non-article. I know the VA asked Rand to do the study but the facts in this articlel add up to nothing. Our VAMC is the only full-service hospital left in Buffalo and I think they do a great job with my depression and PTSD!

  2. Ben House / October 28, 2011 at 8:15 am

    This is an example of really bad journalism. The comparisons are inconsistent with evidence based practice such as suggesting there is a problem with use of drug treatment in depression more than with alcohol abuse. The overall point is mixed with the message the VA does as well or better, but could do even better. Who couldn’t improve. So I read the article again and the sources and I still do not get the point, what is this really saying?

  3. Fred C / October 24, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    And while I’m on a rant, The VA not only does better than other hospitals, but we do it for 20% less money than anyone else. Our number one priorities are PTSD and TBI, Traumatic Brain Injury for our returning vets. We are that good example to the rest of the hospital in this country.

  4. Fred C / October 24, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    If no VA facility performed above or below average, that means they all must have performed at average. Hardly an example of variance. And as for, “Less than one-third of veterans diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder receive continuous treatment with antipsychotic drugs or mood stabilizers,” Did you know that bipolar and SZ patients are famous for refusing treatment and the VA cannot force them to take meds, if they chose not to, unless they are declared incompetant? Stop giving the VA a bad rap. Its customer satisfaction rating is the highest of any hospital system in the USA. Nobody else comes close.

  5. Avatar of linoge
    linoge / October 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    You tell ‘em fred.

Leave a Reply

Please read our comment policy and guidelines before you submit a comment. Your email address will not be published. Thank you for visiting

+ 7 = nine

Reproduction in whole or in part of this publication is strictly prohibited without prior consent. Photographic rights remain the property of Join Together and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. For reproduction inquiries, please e-mail