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Facts & Figures: Military & Veteran Mental Health in Rural America

Remote Chance: Health Care in Rural America, a digital-first series of short films by award-winning filmmaker Elizabeth Arledge, made possible by

There are 4.7 Million Rural Veterans

Almost a quarter of all Veterans in the United States, 4.7 million, return from active military careers to reside in rural communities. Veterans choose rural communities for a variety of reasons: closer proximity to family, friends and community; open space for recreation; more privacy; lower cost of living; or less crowded towns and schools.

While Veterans may enjoy the benefits of rural living, they may also experience rural health care challenges that are intensified by combat-related injuries and illnesses.

More Than Half of Rural Vets Use the VA

58% of rural Veterans are enrolled in the VA health care system. Veterans living in rural areas may have difficulty accessing health services for reasons similar to other rural residents. Some rural veterans face poverty, homelessness, and substance use disorder, which can exacerbate their health issues. In addition, some veterans are unaware of the benefits, services, and facilities available to them through the Veteran Affairs.

7 Percent of VA-Enrolled Rural Vets are Women

Rural and highly rural women veterans were less likely to seek help from the Veteran Affairs for women’s specific care than urban women veterans; highly rural women veterans were less likely to seek help for mental health care compared to urban women veterans. Among the users of primary care, mental health, women’s specific, and all outpatient services, patients’ annual utilization rates were similar.

Rural Vets are Less Likely to Get Mental Health Treatment

Continued efforts to support the provision of behavioral health services to rural veterans are needed. Telemedicine, using rural providers to their maximum potential, and engagement with community stakeholder groups are promising approaches. Rural veterans had 70% lower odds of receiving any mental health treatment…

Rural Vets are Less Likely to Receive Psychiatric Medications

… including 52% lower odds of receiving outpatient psychiatric treatment and 64% lower odds of receiving prescription medications, as compared to urban veterans despite having the same mental health needs.

While research indicates that recent efforts to improve mental health service delivery have resulted in improved access to services, veterans’ rates of mental health treatment are lower in rural areas, compared to urban areas.

More Than 4 Out of 10 Iraq and Afghanistan War Vets Have Mental Health Needs

Among Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn veterans, 41 percent, or about 1.7 million veterans, have a mental health need. Roughly, only 20% of rural veterans with mental health conditions initiate any mental health treatment and even fewer (< 10%) complete a full course of evidence-based mental health treatment

About the Series

Remote Chance: Health Care in Rural America is a series leading to the upcoming 2023 documentary Critical Condition: Health Care in Rural America (WT), a production of Gurney Street Films and WETA Washington, D.C. Produced, directed and written by Elizabeth Arledge.

Support for Remote Chance: Health Care in Rural America provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

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