Home  »  Military & Veteran Benefits   »   GAO: VA Should Do More About Veteran Student Mental Health

GAO: VA Should Do More About Veteran Student Mental Health

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report in 2024 noting that military veterans attending college seek mental health care “at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the veteran population.”

That’s unsurprising, given the stress in a student veteran’s life. Still, the GAO report notes that these students (those who self-identify as needing care) are likely not the only ones in need of Department of Veterans Affairs mental health resources.

And GOA research bears this out. Some are surprised to learn that nearly six million veterans sought “some type of care” at a VA medical facility. As many as 40% of those vets sought mental health care in 2022, a statistic that has been rising since 2017, when 30% of vets seeking VA care were in search of mental health options.

GAO research indicates student veterans “are more likely to suffer from mental health challenges, including depression and anxiety, than other students.” The study has some tough words for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which the GAO says could do a much better job communicating about its mental health care options.

Related: Veteran Education Benefits Guide

Reasons for the GAO Mental Health Care Study

Federal funding was approved for the GAO study through legislation called the Support the Resiliency of Our Nation’s Great Veterans Act of 2022. The Act allowed the GAO to report on VA data on the use of mental health care by student veterans,  as well as VA options for mental health care related to veterans.

The GAO’s motivation for this study is simple. The agency’s research indicates student veterans experience a higher level of anxiety, stress, and feelings of self-harm or suicide than non-veteran student peers.

What The GAO Study Says

The report says the VA isn’t doing enough to spread the word about its mental health care options. It also includes recommendations for the VA to “communicate comprehensive information” on mental health care and appropriate VA programs.

“Research suggests that student veterans are more likely to suffer from mental health challenges…” and to help with this issue, the Veterans Health Administration “partners with some colleges and universities to provide campus-based mental health care and other support for student veterans.”

However, these partnerships are not available everywhere, and according to the report, “We recommended that VHA regularly provide information about the program” to all its partners.

What the GAO Says the VA Should Do

The GAO points out that mental health and mental health care are growing concerns in veteran populations.

This is nothing new, but in the 21st century, the healthcare industry, in general, is far better positioned to meet mental healthcare needs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has indicated on multiple occasions (and across various issues) that it needs to catch up to the 21st century in terms of basics like the healthcare records system and claims processing up to issues including mental healthcare options for student veterans.

Communication is at the heart of the matter at the Department of Veterans Affairs level in this area. The VA has not effectively distributed enough information about its mental health care options throughout the VA healthcare system and partner agencies, at least according to the GAO.

According to the GAO report, “By more regularly communicating comprehensive information across its health care systems, such as through guidance, VA could help ensure its systems all have the information they need to consider participating in the program.” Doing so, the GAO report says, helps the VA “support the mental health needs of its student veteran population.”

The VA Response

The Department of Veterans Affairs has pledged an updated annual briefing about VA mental health programs and partnerships and is expected to “encourage more partnerships”.

Related: Veteran Education Benefits Guide

About the author

Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Editor-in-Chief Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.