Suicide and mental health distress disproportionately affect veterans in the United States. According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 5 million veterans suffered from these adverse behavioral health issues in 2020. That same year, after adjusting for age and sex differences in the population, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimated that veterans were 57.3 percent more likely to commit suicide than non-veterans.
While the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has put several programs in place to address the mental health needs of veterans, recent studies show that more than half of all veterans experiencing a mental health condition are not receiving timely treatment. This rate rises closer to 90 percent for veterans with a substance abuse disorder.
Barrera has received a two-year $300,000 Suicide Prevention and Opioid Addiction Services Research Grant from the Virginia Department of Veterans Services to lead a two-year study that addresses this knowledge gap. The team will investigate determinants of suicide and substance abuse; explore factors impacting decisions to pursue mental health and substance use treatment from both VHA non-VHA providers; evaluate the appropriateness of current treatment allocations; and seek to understand if there are individual factors such as education, income, age, military service history, and characteristics of local area of residence that may be impacting care delivery.