Rural and Urban Supported Employment Programs in the Veterans Health Administration: Comparison of Barriers and Facilitators to Vocational Achievement for Veterans Experiencing Mental Illnesses

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Objective: The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to compare urban and rural supported employment programs on barriers and facilitators with employment for veterans experiencing mental illnesses. Method: A national sample of 114 supported employment staff, supervisors, and upper level managers employed by the Veteran’s Health Administration were recruited. Participants completed an online survey of work barriers and facilitators, including open-ended questions regarding additional factors that impact the work success of veterans. Survey responses were compared between participants from rural (n = 28) and urban (n = 86) programs using independent groups t tests. Open-ended questions were analyzed using content analysis. Results: Supported employment personnel from rural programs perceived significantly more barriers to work success compared with urban personnel, particularly in the areas of access to services and a range of job-related factors, including job match and interpersonal relationships at the work site. In contrast, participants from urban programs reported greater facilitators in the domain of mental health services. Qualitative findings add depth to the quantitative findings and highlight challenges in rural supported employment programs impacting job development and job fit. Both urban and rural programs experienced unique barriers related to geography and transportation. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Findings from this nationwide mixed-methods survey provide a comprehensive picture of the obstacles to employment success for veterans living with mental illnesses and receiving supported employment services in rural areas. Suggestions for changes in policy related to services and resource allocation are presented to address these unique barriers, particularly in rural areas.

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