More than half of post-9/11 combat veterans say they have a mental health condition, but three-fourths report they are getting care, according to a new survey of young veterans conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The data released Thursday from a survey of the group’s membership provides a glimpse into the issues concerning a new generation of combat troops — an accounting that IAVA uses to direct its advocacy work and also to inform lawmakers and the public about what former service members find important.
The survey found that the majority of young veterans receiving treatment for their mental health conditions say they are satisfied with their care, both at the Veterans Affairs Department and in the private sector.
Seventy-two percent of those who get mental health care through VA report being satisfied; 91 percent using a non-VA provider said the same.
The survey was released as VA struggles to deal with a department-wide scandal about scheduling manipulation and appointment delays. The results appear to reflect the problems VA faces in providing timely access to health care.
More than two-thirds of respondents who use VA care for mental health treatment said they had issues with scheduling appointments, compared to just one-third who reported such issues in connection with private-sector care.
“This reinforces ... that it’s not just about getting great care, it’s about having access to care,” IAVA researcher director Jackie Maffucci said.
The survey indicates that veterans continue to face problems with suicide, mental health concerns and service-connected injuries. It found that 47 percent of young veterans know a fellow veteran who attempted suicide and 31 percent have considered it themselves.
The survey of more than 2,000 IAVA members, verified to be combat veterans through military discharge paperwork or other documentation, is not statistically representative of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans overall, but can provide value in understanding the newest group of combat veterans, said Paul Rieckhoff, the group’s chief executive officer.
“We hope it will be a resource for all Americans who want to understand how our community really feels and what we are facing,” Rieckhoff said of the survey.
For the first time since the survey began in 2009, it included a question about burn pit exposure. According to the results, 76 percent of those surveyed said they were exposed to burn pits while deployed, and of those, 54 percent said they think they have symptoms related to the exposure.
“This is arguably the iceberg in Iraq and Afghanistan public health. It’s going to drive public health issues for the next decade and it’s one the VA struggles with because they are running the same playbook as they ran with Agent Orange, which is to deny any evidence of a scientific link and symptoms until it’s too late,” said Phillip Carter, senior fellow and director of the military, veterans and society program at the Center for a New American Security.
Through the survey, former troops expressed concern about being forgotten by the public when the war in Afghanistan ends and voiced disdain for those in the government who have the power to help them.
Eighty-eight percent said they are concerned that public attention to veterans issues will wane after the war is over.
Fifty-four percent think President Obama is doing a poor job of improving the lives of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans while Congress gets even lower marks — 69 percent said lawmakers are doing a poor job.
About one-fifth of those surveyed described the president’s performance in helping veterans as “excellent or good;” just 6 percent described Congress in the same terms.
In addition to health care concerns and perceptions, the survey also asked about disability claims, education benefits and employment.
Among the findings:
■ Seventy percent of respondents said they waited more than 120 days for the VA to notify them of a decision on their disability claim.
■ Sixty-five percent said they felt a financial impact as a result of their claim delay.
■ Ten percent reported being were unemployed.
■Sixty-two percent said they or their dependents have used their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit.