The deadly gap in current veteran substance abuse programs

Substance abuse disorders among veterans is a widely documented problem. In its 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 1.3 million veterans struggle with a substance use disorder (SUD).

Of that group, 481,000 had a co-occurring mental illness with their SUD. This number was a 6.5% increase from the previous year.

SAMHSA has not conducted an in-depth study on veteran substance abuse since 2019. However, several studies point to a worsening of mental health symptoms and an increase in substance abuse disorders among the general public since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For example, one study showed that nonprescription fentanyl abuse increased by 35% between March 15 and May 16, 2020. A CDC press release announced that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States between April 2020 and April 2021, a 28.5% increase from the year prior. Considering that veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose compared to their civilian counterparts, it is likely that veterans were the victims of many of these overdoses.

How is the VA managing this growing problem?

The VA is a powerful resource for veterans and is partnering with industry, healthcare associations, and academic leaders to further expand its substance abuse prevention program. Valor Healthcare is proud to partner with the VA to treat more than 150,000 patriots through VA community-based outpatient clinics each year and offer behavioral health services, including substance abuse prevention care.

While the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) reports that it employs roughly 11,000 doctors, it is also actively increasing its contract physicians, medical residents, and behavioral health providers to increase capacity and ensure services to all veterans struggling with SUD and/or mental health disorders.

Improving veteran substance abuse programs

The U.S. Government Accountability Office and the VHA are working together to develop and implement a system for accurately counting all physicians, contractors, and residents working for the administration. We applaud this movement forward, as it provides a proactive approach to ensuring capacity of appropriate staff needed to treat this growing problem.

Another innovation by the VA that may improve the veteran substance abuse programs is an increased spend into the Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) and housing assistance programs. These are integral parts of any veteran substance abuse program, as studies show employment and housing are closely tied to improved recovery from SUD.

The VA has also continued its investment in its telehealth program, which served more than 2.3 million veterans in 2021. With 4.7 million veterans living in rural communities (nearly one-quarter of the total veteran population), the VA’s commitment to providing accessible care to those areas fulfills a critical need.

Serving our nation’s patriots

Valor Healthcare partners with government agencies like the VA, as well as private practices, to bring quality healthcare to the veteran community. Contact us today — we’d love to discuss how we can help optimize your veteran substance abuse program.