Purpose: Many veterans who face mental illness and live in rural areas never obtain the mental health care they need. To address these needs, it is important to reach out to community stakeholders who are likely to have frequent interactions with veterans, particularly those returning from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).
Methods: Three community stakeholder groups—clergy, postsecondary educators, and criminal justice personnel—are of particular importance for OEF/OIF veterans living in rural areas and may be more likely to come into contact with rural veterans struggling with mental illness or substance abuse than the formal health care system. This article briefly describes the conceptualization, development, initial implementation, and early evaluation of a Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center-based program designed to improve engagement in, and access to, mental health care for veterans returning to rural areas.
Findings: One year since initial funding, 90 stakeholders have attended formal training workshops (criminal justice personnel = 36; educators = 31; clergy = 23). Two training formats (a 2-hour workshop and an intensive 2.5-day workshop) have been developed and provided to clergy in 1 rural county with another county scheduled for training. A veteran outreach initiative, which has received 32 referrals for various student services, has been established on 4 rural college campuses. A Veterans Treatment Court also has been established with 16 referrals for eligibility assessments.
Conclusions: While this pilot program is in the early stages of evaluation, its success to date has encouraged program and VA clinical leadership to expand beyond the original sites.