The paradigm of health care, although frequently dismissing the significance of mental health on all levels of care, tends to limit mental health care access more when it comes to minority populations. As far as mental health access for veterans is concerned, the equity of care differs according to the racial and ethnic affiliation of a patient. The socio-economic implications of racial disparities and discrimination, along with a higher predisposition to mental diseases among minority populations, create an unfavorable environment for quality mental care for the veterans. Since the increase in veteran population after WWII, a significant number of veterans included minority and immobile groups, whereas the patterns of care remained tailored specifically for the male Caucasian population. Veterans, along with other minority groups, are prone to have worse health outcomes, whereas the population of minority veteran groups is projected to increase up to 34%. For this reason, if unaddressed, limited mental health care access for minority groups of veterans and veterans in remote geographical areas will broaden the equity gap to the moment when providing care promptly is impossible.
Currently, one of the most relevant barriers to receiving mental health care in veterans is mobility. According to Jacobs et al. (2019), “Of the approximate 9 million enrolled veterans receiving VHA care, nearly a third live in rural, highly rural, and insular (island) areas and many others experience transportation and financial challenges that are deterrents to VHA health care utilization” (p. 977). Hence, in order to address this issue, back in 2016, the Veteran Health Association (VHA) launched a telehealth initiative by giving 5,000 video-enabled tablets to veterans who were incapable of accessing mental health services on their own. The retrospective research demonstrates that such an initiative has resulted in both higher numbers of veterans receiving care and the quality of mental health care provided (Jacobs et al., 2019). While funded by the government, such an initiative remains an extremely costly endeavor that cannot guarantee quality care for all minority and immobile populations, so it is of utmost importance to define a more cost-efficient source of receiving mental care.
In order to minimize the gap of mental health access among veterans, the US Congress ratified the bill of alternative sources of counseling and mental support. Thus, the US Congress (2014) adopted the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, also known as the Veterans Choice Program. In terms of this regulation, veterans are eligible to choose mental health professionals in their local area who are not necessarily Veteran Affairs professionals. As a result, it has been established on a federal level that veterans willing to receive mental health care could address the professional of their choice regardless of their affiliation to the US Department of Veteran Affairs. Such an initiative is deemed beneficial among the veterans, especially when it comes to women and veterans from remote areas (Stroupe et al., 2019). However, as far as the remote rural areas are concerned, the local legislature and health care services cannot guarantee the existence of a sufficient number of mental health specialists in the area.
Having closely considered the issue of equity in mental health care access, it can be concluded that the implementation of telehealth sources of mental care, in combination with the Veteran Choice Program, has the potential of bridging the gap in terms of receiving quality care. While the Act itself is a beneficial phenomenon for people with severe mental health conditions and mobility issues, the regulation alone cannot provide quality outcomes. For this reason, the future of equal mental care should include a series of initiatives tailored specifically for every minority population.
Jacobs, J. C., Blonigen, D. M., Kimerling, R., Slightam, C., Gregory, A. J., Gurmessa, T., & Zulman, D. M. (2019). Increasing mental health care access, continuity, and efficiency for veterans through telehealth with video tablets. Psychiatric Services, 70(11), 976-982. Web.
Stroupe, K. T., Martinez, R., Hogan, T. P., Gordon, E. J., Gonzalez, B., Kale, I., Osteen, C., Tarlov, E., Weaver, F. M., Hynes, D. M., & Smith, B. M. (2019). Experiences with the veterans’ choice program. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 34(10), 2141-2149. Web.
US Congress. (2014). H.R.3230 – Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (113th Cong.). Web.
US Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Health equity. Web.