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Rural Health Information Hub

Considerations for Veterans

Almost 25% (4.7 million) of veterans live in rural areas. The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that less than half of returning veterans who are in need of mental health treatment actually receive services, and one study found that rural veterans with a mental health condition were 70% less likely to receive any mental health treatment services when compared to urban veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has led various efforts to address mental health and substance use disorders (SUDs) in rural areas, including telehealth and intensive case management resources. Rural SUD treatment programs that work with veterans may consider becoming, or partnering with, community care providers, which receive VA funding to provide veterans with medical services.

SUD frequently co-occurs with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in part because individuals may try to cope with the symptoms of PTSD by using drugs or alcohol. More than one quarter of veterans with PTSD also have SUD. The VA Health System and Department of Defense offer evidence-based clinical guidelines for the management of PTSD and SUD.

There is some evidence that veterans may resist seeking treatment for mental health issues, so outreach efforts should be aware of the stigma issues related to SUDs. Promising practices and outreach may involve community groups or include peer support.

Resources to Learn More

Make the Connection
A collection of online resources designed specifically for veterans and their families to help identify the signs of drug problems and seek treatment options. Resources include videos, information and resource locator, treatment and recovery locator, self-help materials, and self-assessments.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Services for Substance Use Disorders, and Efforts to Address Access Issues in Rural Areas
Discusses the results from a study outlining rural-urban disparities in substance use disorder (SUD) service utilization among veterans.
Organization(s): United States Government Accountability Office
Date: 12/2019

Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Program Locator
Allows users to search for VA Medical Centers with substance use disorder programs by program type or by location.
Organization(s): U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Substance Use Disorders in Military Veterans: Prevalence and Treatment Challenges
Discusses the prevalence rate and types of substance use disorders (SUDs) among veterans. Describes the clinical characteristics of SUDs, the options for screening and treatment, and the challenges and barriers specific to the veteran population.
Author(s): Teeters, J., Lancaster, C., Brown, D., & Back, S.
Citation: Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 8, 69-77
Date: 8/2017

Technical Assistance Tools for Action
Collection of toolkits and resources from SAMHSA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs that address the behavioral health needs of service members, veterans, and their family members. Includes link to the Rural Veteran Outreach Toolkit.
Organization: SAMHSA Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance Center