When combat veterans seek mental health care in New York state, most are seeking help in civilian settings, even though clinicians at Veterans Administration hospitals are trained specifically to serve the military population.  

“Even though the VA is probably the largest provider of services, still over 60% of veterans receive their care outside of the VA,” Dr. Marianne Goodman, a professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Capital Tonight.

It’s a potential problem, said Goodman, who serves on the New York State Governor’s Challenge on Veteran Suicide, because civilian provider clinicians aren’t necessarily “savvy” about issues that are unique to veterans. 

“Like, combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder. Like traumatic brain injury. Like firearms safety, things like that. And they aren’t trained in military culture,” Goodman explained.

There are several reasons why veterans might opt to find care from a civilian provider rather than the VA. Some veterans don’t qualify for VA care; for others, the VA hospital may not be geographically convenient.

It’s the primary reason why Goodman and other advocates are pressing the Legislature to restore funding to the “Veterans Mental Health Training Initiative," which helps train civilian providers to serve military clients.

The program has been funded every year since its inception in 2008 except for last year when its $550,000 allocation was stripped from the budget.  

According to Goodman, the initiative brings training on veterans’ issues like suicide prevention, military culture, women in the military and traumatic brain injury directly to civilian provider clinicians.

“These are essential to giving veterans the care that they need,” according to Goodman, who has worked for 20 years at the Bronx VA.

About 7,400 practitioners have been trained so far.   

The funding is divided among three organizations that have partnered around the initiative. These include the New York State Psychiatric Association, the Medical Society of New York State and the National Association of Social Workers for New York State.