Ten Hut: Military Service Members and Veterans Have Unique Health Needs
- Military service members are more likely to report specific characteristics, like a disability, that affect the kind of care they need compared to other adult Coloradans.
- Military service members used health care services to a higher degree than other adult Coloradans.
- Military service members were less likely to report poor mental health or mental health care utilization than other adults in the state.
Veteran’s Day honors those who have served the United States through military service.
Military service members – a group that includes both active duty and veteran service members – have different demographic characteristics than the general population. Many also have unique chronic health and/or emotional health needs related to trauma from combat.
New data from the 2021 Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) illustrate these challenges: Military service members are more likely to report specific characteristics, like a disability, that affect the kind of care they need compared to other adult Coloradans.
The CHAS helps paint a picture of who Colorado’s active duty or veteran service members are, how they engage with the health care system, and how they characterize their mental health status and needs. And it’s a reminder that this group’s unique health needs require specialized attention from health care providers, policymakers, and communities.
Who Are Colorado’s Veterans?
According to the CHAS, 8.8% of the state’s adult population were active military service members or veterans in 2021. That represents an estimated 380,000 people. This group was more likely than other adult Coloradans to be male, over 65, and not part of the labor force (Figure 1). Female military service members are more likely to be younger than male service members.
Military service members’ incomes were similar to the state as a whole, according to the CHAS. They were more likely to be Black or African American, less likely to be Hispanic or Latino, and more likely to be white than the overall population of the state – a finding that lines up with other data on the demographics of veterans.
What Are Military Service Members’ Health Needs and How Do They Use Care?
Military service members and veterans – and their families – need culturally competent health care that takes into account experiences like deployment, other wartime involvement, or military culture, which have an impact on the conditions they are likely to have and the treatment they are likely to need. For instance, military members are more likely to experience certain physical and mental health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and post-traumatic stress. Even the experience of transitioning from military to civilian life itself can affect service members’ health.
The 2021 CHAS reflects these specific needs. Military service members were much more likely to report that a disability or physical, mental, or cognitive condition made a difference in the kind of health care they needed compared with other adult Coloradans (79.2% of military service members who reported having a unique health need, versus 49.8% of other Coloradans with a unique health need).
Reported care utilization among service members also differed from that of other Coloradans. Military service members were more likely to use health care in the last 12 months, including visiting a general doctor, a specialist, and having a telemedicine visit. They were more likely to report that these visits were for preventive care: 72.0%, compared with 63.2% of other adult Coloradans. However, they were also more likely to visit an emergency room in the last 12 months (see Figure 2).
About one in 11 service members reported not getting needed care from a general doctor because of cost in the last year. That's fewer than the more than one in seven of other adult Coloradans who reported this same challenge (9.1% versus 15.5%, respectively). And 9.0% of military service members didn’t get needed specialty care due to cost compared with 15.3% of other adult Coloradans. This may be because more military service members have coverage that could help bridge this barrier: This group was slightly less likely to be uninsured than other adult Coloradans.
What Do Service Members Say About Mental Health and Care?
Military service members were less likely to report poor mental health than other Coloradans: 20.1% said they had eight or more poor mental health days in the past month, compared with 27.3% of all other adults. They were also less likely to report needing but not getting mental health services in the last year compared with other adults in Colorado (10.7% versus 16.3%) or to think they would need behavioral health services in the next year (14.1% versus 21.4%).
Military service members were also less likely to report that COVID-19 and its impacts affected their mental health: 23.5% reported a decline in mental health due to impacts of COVID-19 compared with 40.1% of other adult Coloradans.
Some of the differences in these statistics could reflect the age and gender distribution between these two populations – older adults and men in Colorado were less likely to report poor mental health, mental health care utilization and future need, and not getting needed services compared with other age groups or women. Other factors not captured in the data could also affect these relationships.
CHI will dive deeper into these and other trends and their implications in a webinar on November 18, 2021. We also explored other issues related to veterans’ health in several recent reports, including one that focused on suicide among veterans and a needs assessment focused on Veterans Community Living Centers in the state.