Military Cultural Competency and Civilian Treatment Providers

In a “there’s bad news but also good news” scenario, the Rand Corporation released the results of a survey of civilian mental health care specialists last month, showing that only 13 percent met the survey’s criteria for military “cultural competency.” That’s the bad news: an overwhelming majority of non-VA mental health care providers lack an understanding of military mores, language, and culture and were unfamiliar with proven treatments for PTSD and post-combat depression.

This is particularly alarming in light of the provision in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act allowing veterans access to non-VA mental health care if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. Good news for those receiving mental health care from the VA is the fact that 70 percent of the civilians surveyed who work at a military or VA treatment center had a high degree of military cultural competency.

Although the VACAA is a positive step in the right direction for allowing rural veterans access to mental health care, what’s clear is that providers must be trained in military culture and in proven treatments for combat-related mental disorders. This is why VetAdvisor coaches, 70% of whom are veterans, have more than 300 years of combined military experience. We know how important it is to have a full understanding of those we serve, as well as what treatment methods have been proven effective.

There was some good news released last month as well. Telemedicine — counseling and therapy provided to patients via a computer link or telephone — appears to hold promise for veterans in rural areas, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry.

A study of 265 veterans with PTSD found that 55 percent who were engaged with their providers via telemedicine received cognitive processing therapy, an evidence-based treatment for PTSD, compared to 12 percent of patients engaged in “usual care.” The results also showed that those in the Telemedicine Outreach for PTSD group had larger declines in scores on PTS diagnostic tests.

VetAdvisor’s platform was purpose built to be multi-modal, allowing veterans access to coaching services in the manner they prefer: by phone, email, message, chat, or in our virtual world. We have evidence demonstrating the efficacy of telehealth platforms like VetAdvisor, but are nonetheless heartened to see confirmation of the benefit of multi-modal communications in providing veterans behavioral health services.

The next thing we at VetAdvisor would like to see is a much greater understanding of military culture by civilian mental health providers. We do provide such training – just contact us to learn more. Either way, the importance of an understanding of military culture by civilian treatment providers can’t be overstated.

For a full discussion of the Rand Corporation survey, click here.

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