More than 5 million veterans choose to live in rural communities after leaving the service. This is nearly one-quarter of the veteran population in the United States. Unfortunately, rural communities do not always have the best access to health care, which poses a real problem for veterans with military-related injuries or illnesses.
Not only is access to health care an issue, but veterans living in rural communities are also at greater risk of suicide than their urban counterparts, says the Centers for Disease Control and the American Psychological Association.
That’s why the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is partnering with local clergy in rural communities. Through a program called Community Clergy Training, the VA aims to reduce the risk of suicide and help veterans living in rural America receive access to health care, including mental health treatment.
Rural veterans and mental health
Knowing that most rural communities have strong faith-based organizations and knowing that many veterans will turn to these organizations for help first, Ben Kaler, a Marine Veteran and employee of VA’s Veterans Experience Office (VEO), wanted to take action.
“I wanted a way to reach Veterans in rural areas that may not have contact with VA services, local community services or state resources,” said Kaler.
The VA is also launching a nationwide Telehealth program, aimed specifically at serving rural veterans suffering from PTSD.
“Long travel distances to urban areas can be a major barrier to care for rural Veterans,” Dr. John Fortney, a research health scientist with the VA Puget Sound Health System and the pilot program’s coordinator, said in a press release. “In a prior trial, we were able to use telehealth technologies successfully to engage Veterans in evidence-based, trauma-focused therapy without their having to travel to a distant VA medical center.”
For more information on the clergy program, visit http://www.patientcare.va.gov/chaplain/clergytraining. To learn more about VA research on PTSD, visit www.research.va.gov/topics/ptsd.cfm.