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Rural Health Information Hub

Mental Health Program Considerations for Rural Veterans

In the United States, almost one quarter of veterans reside in rural communities. For some veterans, military service can lead to mental health challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation.

Veterans living in rural areas face unique challenges to accessing mental health services due to staffing shortages in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities, distance from a VHA facility, and limited understanding of military culture and veterans' mental health needs among non-VA mental health professionals. This can lead to poor engagement with mental health treatment. In an assessment of data from the VHA, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that rural veterans were less likely to use VHA intensive mental healthcare services than urban veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and VHA have implemented several initiatives to support rural veterans struggling with mental health, including:

Rural mental health programs that work with veterans may consider implementing telehealth services, which can be beneficial for rural veterans who are homebound due to illness or disability or who experience other access challenges. Rural mental health programs can also consider partnering with trusted community leaders, such as clergy, to increase access to care. The VHA recommends implementing mental health training programs for clergy to increase rural veterans' access to mental healthcare and services.

For more information on improving access to health services for rural veterans, visit our Rural Veterans and Access to Healthcare topic guide.

Resources to Learn More

Essential Outreach: Expanding Mental Health Support for Rural Veterans
Summarizes different approaches for improving mental health outcomes among rural veterans.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Association
Citation: Rural Health Voices
Date: 3/2018

Improving Access to High-Quality Mental Health Care for Veterans
Presents proceedings from a workshop looking at the availability of mental healthcare services for veterans and the need to improve timely access to mental healthcare for veterans.
Organization(s): Health and Medicine Division, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Date: 2023