Getting access to mental health care and other medical appointments continues to be a serious problem for some of the most severely disabled troops from recent wars, according to a new Wounded Warrior Project membership survey released this week.
More than a third of survey respondents said they had trouble getting mental health appointments in the last year, and more than 43 percent said they had similar problems scheduling appointments for physical injuries.
The survey -- the seventh annual membership poll by WWP officials -- offers a snapshot into the struggles of troops and veterans still dealing with the wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly 32,000 WWP alumni participated in this year's report, 85 percent of whom are receiving disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than half reported a disability rating of 80 percent.
VA officials in recent years have placed an emphasis on expanding care options and medical appointments, but those results haven't had much of an impact on WWP members in recent years. The 35 percent of veterans who struggled to get mental health care mirrors figures from the 2015 survey, and is down only slightly from 40 percent in 2014.
Of those who sought help, 36 percent said their personal schedule conflicted with hours of help available at local VA facilities. About the same percentage of folks said they "do not feel comfortable" with existing VA or Defense Department mental health offerings.
And despite a national effort to end stigma surrounding troops seeking mental health, roughly 21 percent of the WWP survey population believed "they would be considered weak for seeking mental health treatment."
The numbers hint at the difficulty still facing public policy planners as they consider the long-term costs of war, both financial and cultural. Defense Department estimates put the number of veterans with obvious physical injuries from the recent more than 52,000 individuals, tens of thousands more struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and other unseen wounds.
More than 75 percent of the WWP members said their physical or mental health problems affected forced them to miss work, school or other planned routine activities at least one day in the month prior to the survey. More than a third said they feel their health has gotten worse in the last year.
But 82 percent of veterans surveyed said they have a stable support system to help handle those problems, and 77 percent said they have someone to call immediately if a problem occurs.
WWP officials said those numbers have stayed around that level in recent years, indicating that wounded veterans are finding ways to cope with their injuries by reaching beyond just VA or Defense Department resources.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .