Veterans and Military Families

SAMHSA leads efforts to ensure that American service men and women and their families can access behavioral health treatment and services.


There are an estimated 23.4 million veterans in the United States, and about 2.2 million military service members and 3.1 million immediate family members.

  • The demanding environments of military life and experiences of combat, during which many veterans experience psychological distress, can be further complicated by substance use and related disorders. Many service members face such critical issues as trauma, suicide, homelessness, and/or involvement with the criminal justice system. Approximately 18.5% of service members returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, and 19.5% report experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during deployment.
  • Approximately 50% of returning service members who need treatment for mental health conditions seek it, but only slightly more than half who receive treatment receive adequate care.
  • Between 2004 and 2006, 7.1% of U.S. veterans met the criteria for a substance use disorder.
  • The Army suicide rate reached an all-time high in 2012.
  • In the 5 years from 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 members of the Armed Forces took their own lives, an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours.
  • According to an assessment by the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), nearly 76,000 veterans experienced homeless on a given night in 2009. Some 136,000 veterans spent at least one night in a shelter during that year.
  • Mental and substance use disorders caused more hospitalizations among U.S. troops in 2009 than any other cause.
  • A recent Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) report, Twenty-one Percent of Veterans in Substance Abuse Treatment Were Homeless (PDF | 488 KB) states that about 70% of homeless veterans also experience a substance use disorder.

Research also shows the negative impacts that deployment and trauma-related stress can have on military families, particularly wives and children:

  • Cumulative lengths of deployments are associated with more emotional difficulties among military children and more mental health diagnoses among U.S. Army wives.
  • Children of deployed military personnel have more school-, family-, and peer-related emotional difficulties, compared with national samples.

Although active duty troops and their families are eligible for care from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), a significant number choose not to access those services due to fear of discrimination or the harm receiving treatment for behavioral health issues may have on their military career or that of their spouse. National Guard and Reserve troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan (approximately 40% of the total) are eligible for behavioral health care services from the VA, but many are unable or unwilling to access those services. Many National Guard, Reserve, veterans, and active duty service members as well as their families seek care in communities across this country, particularly from state, territorial, tribal, local, and private behavioral health care systems, often with employer-sponsored coverage.

Military families have a culture and unique behavioral health needs that may not be understood within the greater community. SAMHSA supports the behavioral health needs of America’s service men and women—active duty, National Guard, Reserve, and veterans—along with their families, by leading efforts to ensure that community-based services are accessible, culturally competent, and trauma-informed. Reintegration is the primary goal.

Please visit the following pages for more detailed information on each:

Last Updated: 09/29/2014