Mental Health Help for Rural Veterans

Help for Rural Veterans

Options, such as the Veterans Crisis Line, exist for veterans seeking help for mental health challenges. (Provided by Veterans Crisis Line)

Lauren Welter has worked closely over the years with a handful of veterans who come from farm families and returned to the farm after their time in service.

Because of their strong work ethic and other cultural factors that make them great soldiers (or marines, airmen or sailors), rural populations are overrepresented in America's armed services.

Unfortunately, the very factors that make them good soldiers can also make them vulnerable to nonrecovery from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems following their service.

"Specifically, rural life can easily promote isolation, and round-the-clock working can lead to burying trauma memories instead of dealing with them directly," explains Welter, an Iowa licensed psychologist (and former farm wife) who runs a small group practice with two locations in the eastern part of the state.

"Similarly, substance use [and/or abuse] is often culturally sanctioned, and the real need to prioritize daily farming/family needs can make it easy to ignore mental health problems," she adds. "Over time, this all leads to worsening PTSD, depression, anxiety and substance-abuse problems for many rural veterans."

Beyond the general shortage of trained mental health providers in almost all rural spaces, there is a real need for specific training in military culture and combat trauma, in particular.

The primary treatment options rural veterans have come from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), where providers have specialized training working with combat veterans but may lack understanding of the many cultural and lifestyle factors that make it difficult for rural veterans to seek or fully engage with mental health treatment.

For many rural veterans, VHA clinics can be several hours away and have long wait lists, while most civilian providers, even if they do have availability and accessibility, have little training in the unique experiences of military culture and combat, Welter explains.

"From my observations, these rural veterans can end up feeling more hopeless and helpless when they do seek care, and they feel misunderstood by providers," she points out.


-- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): The VA provides a wide range of mental health services specifically tailored to the needs of veterans. This includes individual and group therapy, medication management, specialized programs for PTSD and substance abuse, and 24/7 crisis support.

-- Vet Centers: These community-based centers offer a variety of services, including individual and group counseling, marital and family counseling, and assistance with VA benefits.

-- Military OneSource: This free service provides confidential counseling and support to active-duty, National Guard and Reserve members, as well as their families. They offer a wide range of resources, including face-to-face counseling, online chat and telephone support.

-- Local Mental Health Providers: Veterans can seek help from private mental health providers in their local communities. It is important to find providers who have experience working with veterans or with trauma-related issues.

-- Support Groups: Veterans can benefit from connecting with other veterans who have had similar experiences. Support groups, both in person and online, can provide a sense of community and understanding.

-- Crisis Hotlines: Veterans in crisis can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 (Press 1). To chat online, visit…. These services provide immediate crisis support and can help connect veterans to appropriate resources.

Addressing these mental health challenges among veterans, especially in rural areas, requires a comprehensive approach. It involves improving access to mental health services, raising awareness about available resources, reducing stigma and providing targeted support to address the unique needs of veterans in rural communities.


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