Mental disorders and mental health treatment among U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatients: the Veterans Health Study

Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Dec;156(12):1924-30. doi: 10.1176/ajp.156.12.1924.


Objective: The authors examined the self-reported presence and treatment of current depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol-related disorder in a group of outpatient veterans.

Method: Data were obtained from the Veterans Health Study, a longitudinal investigation of male veterans' health. A representative sample of 2,160 outpatients (mean age = 62 years) was drawn from Boston-area U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) outpatient facilities. The participants completed screening measures for depression, PTSD, and alcohol-related disorder. Mental health treatment was assessed by interviews.

Results: The screening criteria for at least one current mental disorder were satisfied by 40% (N = 856) of the patients. Screening rates were 31% (N = 676) for depression, 20% (N = 426) for PTSD, and 12% (N = 264) for alcohol-related disorder. Patients who screened positively for current mental disorders were younger, less likely to be married or employed, and more likely to report traumatic exposure than were those without mental disorders. Of those who met the screening criteria for any of the targeted mental disorders, 68% (N = 579) reported receiving mental health treatment. Younger, Caucasian men and those who reported more traumatic exposure were more likely to report receiving mental health treatment than were others who screened positively for mental disorders.

Conclusions: Screening rates of depression and PTSD and rates of mental health treatment were considerably higher among these VA outpatients than among similar patients in primary care in the private sector. Although the VA is currently meeting the mental health care needs of its patients, future fiscal constraints could affect most adversely the treatment of non-Caucasian and older patients and those with a history of traumatic exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Hospitals, Veterans / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Health Services / supply & distribution
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / statistics & numerical data
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data