Factors Impacting Rural Pacific Island Veterans’ Access to Care: A Qualitative Examination

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Pacific Island veterans suffer from greater severity of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) compared with Caucasian veterans but face substantial barriers to mental health care. However, the factors that may dissuade or facilitate veterans in the Pacific Islands from seeking mental health care are not known. The main aim of this study was to identify how internal and external factors interact to impact wounded warriors’ access to and use of mental health services. Veterans residing in 5 rural Pacific Island locations were mailed recruitment materials. Other veterans were made aware of the project by key stakeholders in their communities. Thirty-seven male veterans (across 5 focus groups) and 1 female veteran (via individual interview) participated. The study utilized an analytic design in which taped focus group discussions were transcribed verbatim and coded for major themes. Results indicated that most veterans identified Veterans Affairs (VA) as a positive source for health care. However, common concerns acknowledged were as follows: (a) difficulty navigating the VA system, (b) time associated with receiving care, (c) family stigma, (d) community stigma, (e) cultural differences, and (f) a lack of knowledge about VA services and benefits. Facilitators of care included the following: (a) individual knowledge and self-efficacy, (b) networking with other veterans, (c) family support, and (d) rural community support. All factor levels interacted in subtle ways to ultimately impact access to care. Next steps are described, including projects designed to better meet the needs of rural Pacific Island veterans.

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