, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 18-24,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Mental Health Diagnoses and Utilization of VA Non-Mental Health Medical Services Among Returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Over 35% of returned Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in VA care have received mental health diagnoses; the most prevalent is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Little is known about these patients’ use of non-mental health medical services and the impact of mental disorders on utilization.

OBJECTIVE

To compare utilization across three groups of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: those without mental disorders, those with mental disorders other than PTSD, and those with PTSD.

DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS

National, descriptive study of 249,440 veterans newly utilizing VA healthcare between October 7, 2001 and March 31, 2007, followed until March 31, 2008.

MEASUREMENTS

We used ICD9-CM diagnostic codes to classify mental health status. We compared utilization of outpatient non-mental health services, primary care, medical subspecialty, ancillary services, laboratory tests/diagnostic procedures, emergency services, and hospitalizations during veterans’ first year in VA care. Results were adjusted for demographics and military service and VA facility characteristics.

MAIN RESULTS

Veterans with mental disorders had 42–146% greater utilization than those without mental disorders, depending on the service category (all P < 0.001). Those with PTSD had the highest utilization in all categories: 71–170% greater utilization than those without mental disorders (all P < 0.001). In adjusted analyses, compared with veterans without mental disorders, those with mental disorders other than PTSD had 55% higher utilization of all non-mental health outpatient services; those with PTSD had 91% higher utilization. Female sex and lower rank were also independently associated with greater utilization.

CONCLUSIONS

Veterans with mental health diagnoses, particularly PTSD, utilize significantly more VA non-mental health medical services. As more veterans return home, we must ensure resources are allocated to meet their outpatient, inpatient, and emergency needs.