Addressing Mental Health Treatment Barriers For Veterans

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated November 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

On the 11th of November, the US celebrates Veterans Day to honor veterans who have served the US armed forces. November is also known as Military Family Month when campaigns that provide resources for military families and veterans occur. 

According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 16.5 million veterans make up the adult population in the nation. While veterans have left the battlefield, some may continue to experience the effects of their time served, potentially remembering physical and emotional trauma. Because veterans often experience traumatic events, the rate of mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be high in these communities. 

To understand veterans' treatment barriers and how their experiences may impact their mental health, it can be helpful to look at current public stigmas and ways they can overcome these challenging beliefs.  

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How Stigma Affects Healthcare Availability For Veterans

Although some people may be sensitive to the mental health concerns and invisible disabilities some veterans have, there are still stigmas surrounding this topic in the US. General mental healthcare has become less stigmatized in the past decade, making more people willing to go to therapy. However, veterans may face the following stigmas that make it difficult to reach out for help. 

Public Stigma

Some veterans experience perceived public stigma, which may dissuade them from seeking mental health services. Dr. Alicia Lucksted of the University of Maryland School of Medicine notes that many veterans feel like outcasts because of their mental health. She also reports that many veterans believe they are violent or will become violent unprovoked.

In one study, 44.2% of active-duty military soldiers said they were deterred from seeking mental health services because they feared their unit leadership might treat them differently. In addition, 42.9% believed they would be seen as weak by peers.

Public stigma can point to a culture that may not seem as accepting toward those seeking support for mental concerns. In addition, it can indicate that mental health is not discussed enough by direct leadership and peers in veterans' circles, making it an uncomfortable topic for some. 

Internalized Stigma

In a study by Dr. Dwane Vogt, researchers reported that 70% of veterans don't seek mental health services out of fear of being diagnosed with a mental illness. In the study by Dr. Alicia Lucksted above, veterans who did receive care said they were angry that they were diagnosed and didn't want to believe it. They felt they should "suck it up" and ignore their mental health symptoms because they "knew what they were getting into." 

Some veterans may believe that, because of their veteran status, they are "supposed to be strong enough" to overcome their mental health challenges without help from a mental health provider. However, due to the nature of conditions like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, it can be challenging to cope healthily and reduce symptom severity alone. 


Veterans may form these beliefs due to social pressure to be "tough" and silently cope with all challenging events. Instead of talking about emotions with their peers, veterans may have memories of silence and internalized fears. In addition, being in a rugged and intense environment one year and in an office with a counselor the next might feel confusing and insulting. However, despite these stigmas, it can take bravery and grit to connect with a professional despite outdated cultural norms. 

What Other Treatment Barriers Do Veterans Face? 

Another barrier to mental healthcare is that a veteran can only receive insurance-covered mental health services from the VA if they were honorably discharged, whether it be categorized as a medical or general discharge. Veterans with an "other than honorable discharge" may be eligible for some benefits, but not all. Those who were discharged dishonorably lose all health insurance benefits of their service. However, people facing these barriers can still receive treatment outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs if they pay for a personal insurance plan or out-of-pocket for services. 

The cost of VA treatment is often not a barrier for veterans. However, the time it takes can be an obstacle. Some people report months to years of waiting for an appointment with these services. Veterans who require immediate mental healthcare may seek care outside of the VA or pay for these services. 

Reaching Out For Help 

According to the American Psychology Association, one-third of military soldiers returning from Operation Enduring Freedom have a mental illness or cognitive challenge. Another paper by Miriam Reisman reports that 13.5% to 30% of veterans from all branches have PSTD. In addition, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 11% of veterans have depression. These rates can be in higher concentration in veteran groups than in non-veteran communities; as the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses (NAMI) reports veterans are five times more likely to have depression than non-veterans.

If you are a veteran experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, you're not alone. If these symptoms interfere with your quality of life, make it difficult to accomplish daily tasks, or cause fear, consider contacting a licensed therapist. If you face the above barriers, live in a remote location, have a busy schedule, or want to stay in the comfort of your home to receive support, you can also try methods like online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp.

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Online therapy is an available, affordable, and convenient option proven as effective as in-person therapy and equally beneficial. A research trial published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology compared the efficacy of online therapy for veterans with combat-related PTSD concerning in-person therapy. The study results revealed that home-based telehealth therapy was equally as effective as the standard in-person treatment, with both showing a significant reduction in symptoms of PTSD. Researchers added that online therapy offered the benefits of addressing stigma and geographic-related barriers to treatment, including travel time and cost. 


Veterans can face unique barriers to seeking mental healthcare due to external and internal learned stigmas. Although you might be carrying these stigmas with you, know that you're not alone. Support is available in the form of at-home and in-office therapy. Consider reaching out to take the first steps.

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