PTSD treatment for soldiers after combat deployment: low utilization of mental health care and reasons for dropout

Psychiatr Serv. 2014 Aug 1;65(8):997-1004. doi: 10.1176/


Objective: Limited data exist on the adequacy of treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after combat deployment. This study assessed the percentage of soldiers in need of PTSD treatment, the percentage receiving minimally adequate care, and reasons for dropping out of care.

Methods: Data came from two sources: a population-based cohort of 45,462 soldiers who completed the Post-Deployment Health Assessment and a cross-sectional survey of 2,420 infantry soldiers after returning from Afghanistan (75% response rate).

Results: Of 4,674 cohort soldiers referred to mental health care at a military treatment facility, 75% followed up with this referral. However, of 2,230 soldiers who received a PTSD diagnosis within 90 days of return from Afghanistan, 22% had only one mental health care visit and 41% received minimally adequate care (eight or more encounters in 12 months). Of 229 surveyed soldiers who screened positive for PTSD (PTSD Checklist score ≥50), 48% reported receiving mental health treatment in the prior six months at any health care facility. Of those receiving treatment, the median number of visits in six months was four; 22% had only one visit, 52% received minimally adequate care (four or more visits in six months), and 24% dropped out of care. Reported reasons for dropout included soldiers feeling they could handle problems on their own, work interference, insufficient time with the mental health professional, stigma, treatment ineffectiveness, confidentiality concerns, or discomfort with how the professional interacted.

Conclusions: Treatment reach for PTSD after deployment remains low to moderate, with a high percentage of soldiers not accessing care or not receiving adequate treatment. This study represents a call to action to validate interventions to improve treatment engagement and retention.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Dropouts / psychology
  • Patient Dropouts / statistics & numerical data*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / therapy*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult