By: Elinore F. McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Secretary of Mental Health and Substance Use
When individuals enter the field of healthcare, they are driven by a passion to assist others in
achieving their best state of wellness. No matter their respective professional backgrounds, all health providers recognize the value of strong screening and assessments. We spend time and effort in screening to ensure that quality care can be delivered. Ideally, care that is both person-centered and that results in individualized treatment planning that meets the needs of the unique patient.

 

So why do so many of us neglect to ask a critical question in our intake assessments that would identify vital and potentially life-saving information? A question that arguably has ties to our national security and demonstrates true support of those men and women who proudly served our nation in the armed forces? A question, which in just one sentence, can assist in identifying if the patient may have an increased likelihood for certain medical or mental health related conditions.

That question being: “Have you or a loved one ever served in the U.S. military?”

With approximately half of all of our nation’s veterans seeking care outside of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and around one-third of visits covered by the VA being completed by community providers, there is no better time to adopt screening procedures for this population in community healthcare settings. The recently released National Suicide Data Report cited CDC data reflecting that our nation’s veterans are at higher risk for suicide than their civilian peers, making screening for military status an important tool in helping to identify individuals at risk, and allowing providers to properly link them to appropriate levels of care.

If you are one of the majority who work in the health care field who does not yet ask this critical screening question a few quick steps can get you and your organization ready to start identifying the military personnel and veterans you may be treating.

The following steps can be taken to get started:

  1. Visit the VA’s Community Provider Toolkit page on screening. (It tells you the why behind screening and offers the questions that can be utilized that have been fully vetted by experts.)
  2. Start internally by examining your organization’s screening tools or electronic medical record (EMR): Do you have this question already, and does it line up with the suggested language from the experts on how to properly screen?
  3. To assist when a service member, veteran or family member does identify as part of this group there are several free, government-vetted, training programs on military and veteran cultural competencies available to you. Check out the Military Culture Resources link on the VA Community Provider Toolkit that lists free trainings featuring content provided by VA, the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  4. Our SMVF TA Center – Check out the example of what the State of New Hampshire has set up with their statewide “Ask the Question” External Web Site Policy. This effort was one that grew out of SAMHSA’s Service Members Veterans and their Families Technical Assistance Center policy academy work, and training on how to integrate screening, and is available to states across the country.

SAMHSA is dedicated to ensuring the mental health and substance use disorder needs of our nation’s military and veteran families are being met, regardless of where they seek care. If you have questions about our efforts or how to implement screening utilizing the resources shared here, please contact our military and veteran affairs liaison at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..