Serving those who serve: Department of Veterans Affairs Community Provider Toolkit

Learn more about a comprehensive online resource for psychologists who provide care to military personnel and veterans.

By Heather O'Beirne Kelly

One-tenth of the American population has either served in the U.S. military or has a family member who serves or served. Many military personnel, veterans and their family members seek or are referred to behavioral health care outside the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) systems, making it essential that private sector psychologists and other community providers feel competent in serving these populations. This month I want to highlight a remarkable online resource for psychologists: The VA’s Community Provider Toolkit, which will enable you to get some basic training, so to speak, on working with veterans and current members of the military.

Psychologists on staff in VA headquarters led the development of the toolkit, which provides free resources including “information on screening for military service, handouts and training to increase knowledge about military culture and mini-clinics focused on relevant aspects of behavioral health and wellness."

APA has joined other health care professional organizations in urging our providers to first “ask the question” when you see clients: Have you or a family member ever served in the military? DoD and VA psychologists note that "military background is not always assessed by clinicians and not always spontaneously shared by veteran clients." Knowing a client's military background can both inform your treatment planning and remind you to consider referral to resources for which your client may qualify. The VA Community Provider Toolkit offers a list of screening questions you can ask, a downloadable Mental Health History Pocket Card, and tips for what to do with the information you get from a veteran or family member.

On the toolkit website you may also take a free, online course (for eight CE credits) on Military Culture: Core Competencies for Healthcare Professionals, as well as online mini-clinics for a deeper dive into veteran-focused case management and treatment tools. Current online mini-clinic topics include working with LGBT, transgender and/or women veterans, as well as PTSD, suicide prevention, disability benefits, substance use and use of technology in care. You can learn about the VA’s smartphone apps, including its “PTSD Coach,” and ensure that you have the number for the Veterans Crisis Line (both phone and online chat versions) to share with military and veteran clients and family members.

In the toolkit’s “Resources” section, you also will see links to the VA's National Center for PTSD, an amazing source of assessment, research, and treatment information and tools for providers. The National Center even offers free consultation for community providers with its own world-renowned PTSD experts. You will also see practical information on why and how to connect as a private provider with your local VA, all in service of better meeting your clients’ possibly unique needs.

About the author

Heather O’Beirne Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and APA’s first director of Military and Veterans Health Policy. Watch this space for regular updates on issues ranging from protecting the VA’s integrated care system, to advocating for more attention to military sexual assault prevention, to encouraging more systematic training on evidence-based treatments.