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SMVF Special Populations

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Find resources for special populations among service members, veterans, and their families.

Special Populations Directory

American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) Veterans

Warrior tradition in Indian Country has contributed to the high rate of Native American enlistment and service in the military for over 200 years. AIAN people currently account for 1.7 percent of total troops, both enlisted and officer, though AIAN people account for just 1.4 percent of the United States population. Service and commitment continue beyond the military, as many tribal leaders and service providers are Veterans. This large group of past and current service members continues to give to their communities and their country, even when they and their families are in need of service and/or support.

Unique Challenges

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) report “American Indian and Alaska Native Servicemembers and Veterans (PDF | 285 KB),” AIAN people:

  • Serve at a high rate and have a higher concentration of female service members than all other service members
  • Are younger as a cohort than all other service members
  • Have lower incomes, lower educational attainment, and higher unemployment than Veterans of other races
  • Are more likely to lack health insurance and to have a disability, service-connected or otherwise, than Veterans of other races

Resources for AIAN Veterans

SAMHSA’s Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center
This Center provides training and technical assistance to tribes and tribal organizations that provide behavioral health services.

Office of Tribal Affairs (OTAP)
OTAP is an office within the SAMHSA, which serves as the primary point of contact for tribal governments, tribal organizations, federal departments and agencies, and other governments and agencies on behavioral health issues facing American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) in the United States.

American Indian and Alaska Native Veterans: 2017 (PDF | 560 KB)
In May 2020, VA published a report on AIAN Veterans using data from 2017. This report provides comprehensive statistics on AIAN Veterans through an examination of demographic, socioeconomic, and health status statistics.

Association between lifetime Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Past Year Alcohol Use Disorder among American Indians/Alaska Natives and Non-Hispanic Whites
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol use disorder disproportionately impact certain populations, including American Indian and Alaska Native people. While PTSD and alcohol use disorder have been studied both separately and in tandem, less is known about the association in AIAN people. The objective of this study was to examine the association between lifetime PTSD and past-year alcohol use disorder among AIAN people and non-Hispanic White people. This article was published in 2017.

They Talk to Each Other
"They Talk to Each Other" works with Veterans to enhance cross-generational discussions. The goal is to develop strategies to pass ceremonial traditions from one generation to the next and establish roles to support Veterans coming home.

Rural Promising Practice Issue Brief: Telemental Health Clinics for Rural Native American Veterans (PDF | 487 KB)
The Promising Practices initiative is overseen by the VA Office of Rural Health as part of its targeted, solution-driven approach to increasing access to care for 3 million Veterans living in rural communities who rely on VA for health care.

Telemedicine in Native American Tribes
Care can be tough to find on remote reservations or in tribal facilities with limited clinical resources. That’s why many tribes are using telemedicine to bring sophisticated care to their communities.

VA Office of Tribal Government Relations
Visit the Office of Tribal Government Relations webpage to explore resources for AIAN Veterans. The website offers resources related to economic sustainability, the National Native American Veterans Memorial, access to care and benefits, and Veterans’ resources at-a-glance.

Veterans and Suicide Prevention—Indian Health Service
The Indian Health Service and VA have partnered to improve access and service delivery to AIAN Veterans. The page offers interactive resources, VA health benefit information, and publications and reports.

Native American Veterans Association
The Native American Veterans Association serves and honors men and women who have served active duty and their families through readjustment assistance, strengthening ties family ties, linkages to services, and career and educational training.

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPIs) Veterans

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AA and NHPIs) people have honorably served in the U.S. military since the War of 1812. Some of the most prestigious AA and NHPIs military units of World War II include the 100th Infantry Battalion (composed of “Nisei,” or second-generation Japanese Americans); the Military Intelligence Service (Japanese American units of translators and interpreters); and 407th Air Service Squadron and 987th Signal Company (both composed of drafted Chinese Americans). AA and NHPIs people also served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was the most decorated unit for its size and length of service. In total about 14,000 men served, earning 9,486 Purple Hearts, 21 Medals of Honor and 8 Presidential Unit Citations.

Filipino service members played a key role as early as 1901, when the first Philippine Scout company was created. Their mission was to restore order and peace in troubled areas. In 1942, the first Filipino Battalion was formed. There were so many volunteers that a second Filipino Battalion was formed that same year (VA - Center for Minority Veterans, 2013) (PDF | 430 KB).

Unique Challenges

In Mental Health of Asian American and Pacific Islander Military Veterans: Brief Review of an Understudied Group, the authors report that ANHPI Veterans face many challenges, one of which is “[ANHPI] Veterans have poorer mental health than other veterans and are not receiving needed mental health services.” The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) identified “[ANHPI people] have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial/ethnic group, with only 23.3 percent of [ANHPI] adults with a mental illness receiving treatment in 2019.” Some identified reasons for lower help seeking were systematic barriers for care and quality treatment and a lack of culturally competent care, such as using a more holistic approach.

Resources for ANHPI Veterans

SAMHSA: Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Equity
Resources for ANHPI people include national survey reports, agency and federal initiatives, related behavioral health resources, and in-language resources.

Japanese American Veterans’ Association
The Japanese American Veterans' Association, Inc. (JAVA), is a fraternal and educational organization with many purposes. JAVA preserves and strengthens comradeship among its members; perpetuates the memory and history of our departed comrades; educates the American public on the Japanese American experience during WWII; and strives to obtain for Veterans the full benefit of their entitlements as Veterans.

Asian Mental Health Collective
The Asian Mental Health Collective’s (AMHC’s) mission is to normalize and de-stigmatize mental health within the Asian community. AMHC aspires to make mental health easily available, approachable, and accessible to Asian communities worldwide.

Black Veterans

Black people have served in the U.S. military in every battle that has taken place. According to VA, Office of Health Equity, from 2019 to 2045, the racial and ethnic makeup of Veterans will change, and Black Veterans will comprise 15 percent of the Veteran population (currently making up 12 percent of the population). Although formal means of discrimination may no longer be in practice, unfortunately, the military, like many other large institutions, does not find itself isolated when it comes to dealing with racial and behavioral health disparities. Cultural sensitivity, along with being culturally informed regarding the cultural norms, practices, and barriers faced by Black Veterans is needed to address long-term historical trauma, health disparities, unconscious bias, and system-wide disparities. Cultural competence is critical to increase the availability of the appropriate resources for Black service members, Veterans, and their families (SMVF).

Unique Challenges

Although help-seeking behavior is improving, many Black people still do not seek treatment for behavioral health due not only to stigma, but also due to a perceived lack of trust in the mental health “system.” Additionally, some Black people tend to rely on the strength of extended family, close friends, and the role of their community and faith-based organizations for support. Consequently, when working with the Black SMVF population, it is important to keep the following points in mind:

  • Perceived discrimination for seeking services
  • Lack of trust in the “system”
  • Role of faith-based institutions
  • Role of the extended family

Resources for Black Veterans

SAMHSA: Black/African American
Resources on this population include national survey reports, agency and federal initiatives, and related behavioral health resources.

African American Behavioral Health Center of Excellence
The African American Behavioral Health Center of Excellence (AABH-COE) is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA. AABH-COE’s mission is to help transform behavioral health services for African Americans, making them safer, more effective, more accessible, more inclusive, more welcoming, more engaging, and more culturally appropriate and responsive.

National Association for Black Veterans
The mission and vision of the National Association for Black Veterans is to honor the bravery and strength of the people who served and ensure that these Veterans receive the respect they deserve from society and lead a peaceful life. The webpage provides resources for Veterans, caregivers, and families.

Black Veterans Project
The mission of the Black Veterans Project is to (1) acknowledge and amplify the unique achievements and contributions of Black Veterans and to (2) lead a movement for racial inclusion and justice across the five branches of the U.S. military while ensuring the welfare of all Black Veterans who served.

Black Veterans for Social Justice
The mission of Black Veterans for Social Justice is to provide program services to assist military personnel with making a smooth transition from active duty to civilian life. Services are provided to SMVF in the areas of social readjustment, housing, employment, compensation, disability, substance abuse, medical treatment, post-traumatic stress syndrome, legal advocacy, discharge up-grade, and redress of grievances within and outside the military.

Black Mental Health Alliance
The mission of the Black Mental Health Alliance is to develop, promote, and sponsor trusted, culturally relevant educational forums, trainings, and referral services that support the health and well-being of Black people and their communities.

Hispanic and Latino Veterans

According to VA, Office of Health Equity (OHE), from 2019 to 2045, the population of Hispanic Veterans will increase from 8 percent to 12 percent. Much like Black Veterans, the incidence of racial inequities in the military for Hispanic or Latino Veterans is alarming. It is believed that members of the Hispanic population are grossly underserved by mental health services. At the forefront of this may be race and ethnicity-based differences, including language barriers, cultural norms regarding mental health-seeking behavior, and lack of provider diversity, among other barriers.

Unique Challenges

An article by Robert Cancio, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, examined cultural norms among Hispanic Veterans. These norms involved the existence of strong family ties, work ethic, as well as a culture that is defined by “hyper-masculinity” or what is also called “machismo.” The article reported that while machismo may be viewed by some providers as an obstacle to counseling interventions, it is important to note that this concept in Latino culture builds on resiliency as well as pride in overcoming barriers. The importance of family ties suggests that when working with Hispanic SMVF, providers should strive to involve the family as much as possible to ensure maximum success in the treatment process. Additional culturally informed research, education, and knowledge of Hispanic SMVF behavioral health concerns is needed to provide more appropriate treatment that fully addresses the needs and builds on the strengths of this population.

Resources for Hispanic and Latino Veterans

SAMHSA: Hispanic/Latino Behavioral Health Equity
This page provides resources for Hispanic and Latino people, including national survey reports, agency and federal initiatives, and related behavioral health and Spanish-language resources.

League of United Latin American Citizens Veterans
The League of United Latin American Citizens is the nation’s oldest and largest Latino civil rights volunteer-based organization that empowers Hispanic Americans and builds strong Latino communities. This organization honors and empowers Veterans. The website includes Veteran Visa resources.

Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance
The Hispanic Veterans Leadership Alliance is a non-profit organization composed of senior military and civilian leaders committed to overcoming the limited representation and inclusion of Hispanic and Latino people throughout the senior ranks of the U.S. Department of Defense. Their mission is to advance the inclusion of Latinos across all leadership levels in the U.S. Armed Forces, military and civilian.

American GI Forum
The American GI Forum is a congressionally chartered Hispanic Veterans and civil rights organization founded in 1948. It focuses on Veteran’s issues, education, and civil rights.

National Latino Behavioral Health Association
The National Latino Behavioral Health Association was established to fill a need for a unified national voice for Latino populations in the behavioral health arena and to bring attention to the great disparities that exist in areas of access, utilization, practice-based research, and adequately trained personnel.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer + (LGBTQ+) Veterans

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Veterans have served throughout our history. In 2011 when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, it became legal to be openly LGBTQ+ and serve in the military. On April 30, 2021, it became legal to be openly transgender and serve. The LGBTQ+ Veteran and civilian community have experienced years of oppression. It is important to understand how policies and prejudicial attitudes have impacted the mental health of LGBTQ+ Veterans so those serving LGBTQ+ Veterans can best help them heal in an inclusive environment.

Unique Challenges

LGBTQ+ Veterans are two times more likely to experience depression and suicidal ideation than heterosexual Veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, LGBTQ+ Veterans are more likely to screen positive for the following:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Alcohol misuse

Resources for LGBTQ+ Veterans

SAMHSA: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Behavioral Health Equity
This page provides resources for the LGBTQ+ population, including national survey reports, agency and federal initiatives, and related behavioral health resources.

The Center of Excellence on LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity
The Center of Excellence on LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Equity provides behavioral health practitioners with vital information on supporting people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, two-spirit, and other diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.

VHA LGBTQ+ Health Program
VA has health care services available that are specific to LGBTQ+ Veterans. This website provides links to those resources and information for each LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator. There is an LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinator at every facility to help LGBTQ+ Veterans access needed care.

Military Sexual Assault in Transgender Veterans: Results from a Nationwide Survey
This 2018 VA study used an online national survey of 221 transgender Veterans to identify the prevalence of military sexual assault and to assess its association with demographic characteristics, past history of sexual victimization, and stigma-related factors.

Transgender Veterans’ Satisfaction with Care and Unmet Health Needs
This 2020 VA study examined transgender Veterans’ satisfaction with VA medical and mental health care, prevalence of delaying care, and correlates of these outcomes.

American Veterans for Equal Rights
American Veterans for Equal Rights is a non-profit, non-partisan, chapter-based Veterans Service Organization of active, reserve, and Veteran service members dedicated to full and equal rights and equitable treatment for all present and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. The group focuses on LGBTQ+ current and prior military personnel who have been historically disenfranchised by armed forces policy and discriminatory laws governing military service and benefits.

Modern Military Association of America
Formed through the merger of the American Military Partner Association and OutServe-SLDN, the Modern Military Association of America is the nation’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and Veteran community. Through education, advocacy and support, the organization works to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ SMVF.

LGBTQ+ Hotline
While not SMVF specific, this hotline provides free and confidential peer-support as well as as local resources for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Trans Lifeline
The Trans Lifeline has assembled a number of resources to assist transgender service members and Veterans.

Transgender American Veterans Association
The Transgender American Veterans Association collaborates and partners with various organizations to expand access to full services and dignified treatment for transgender service members and Veterans. The association has assembled a resource library that guides and aids transgender Veterans in their journey.

Older Veterans

According to the American Community Survey 2015-2019 5-Year Data Release, the Veteran population aged 65 or older numbered in excess of 18.2 million people. These Veterans have served in conflicts around the world, including World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and even in the Persian Gulf War (Veteran Affairs: Elderly Veterans). Many were drafted into the service and faced varying levels of public support.

Unique Challenges

According to the National Council on Aging, older Veterans report worse health than older civilians. Eighty-one percent of older Veterans have at least two chronic conditions, such as hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer, compared with 70 percent of older civilians. Twenty-five percent of older Veterans may have at least one functional limitation, such as trouble bathing, dressing, and walking, as compared to 17 percent of their civilian counterparts. Older Veterans have somewhat higher rates of mental health issues. Twenty-two percent of older Veterans report feelings of depression, as compared to 18 percent among their civilian counterparts.

Resources for Older Veterans

SAMHSA: Resources for Older Adults
SAMHSA has several products for serving older adults with mental and substance use disorders that can be useful to clinicians, other service providers, older adults, and caregivers.

AARP: Veterans, Military and Their Families
AARP is well known for their support of the older community. This page is specific to SMVF and provides information and resources, including programs available from agencies such as VA, the U.S. Department of Defense, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Elizabeth Dole Foundation
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation’s programs provide military and Veteran caregivers the support they need at the local, state, and national levels. These programs engage individuals, organizations, and communities across the country to get involved and make a difference in the lives of military caregivers.

Anywhere to Anywhere: Use of Telehealth to Increase Health Care Access for Older, Rural Veterans
This full online article from Public Policy and Aging Report is focused on the effects of telehealth amongst older, rural Veterans.

Operation Family Caregiver: Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers
Operation Family Caregiver is a program of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI). RCI supports caregivers—both family and professional—through advocacy, education, research, and service. It establishes local, state, national, and international partnerships committed to building quality, long-term home and community-based services.

VA Caregiver Support Program
VA has resources and benefits for caregivers in the SMVF community, including the VA’s Caregiver Support line, in-home support services, and much more.

Eldercare Locator
A public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging provides a service locator for older adults. Some of the local resources provided include area agencies on aging, state agencies on aging, elder abuse prevention, department of social services protective serves for adults, health insurance counseling, legal services, and more. Resources vary by location.

Women Veterans

Women have been serving in the military in one form or another for more than 200 years (USO). According to the 2020 Report of VA's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, approximately two million women Veterans have served in the Armed Forces. This number will continue to grow due to the increased presence of women in the active duty and reserve components. More than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 and more than 9,000 have earned Combat Action Badges. Today, women make up 16 percent of our nation’s Armed Forces, serving in every branch of the U.S. military (USO). As this population grows and continues to serve in critical roles, it is important that we ensure we are inclusive of women Veterans in the work we do for those who serve.

Unique Challenges

Women Veterans have often felt invisible (Invisible Veterans and VA’s Center for Women Veterans). As more women serve, VA and other agencies are working to be more inclusive as well as to understand and meet the specific needs of women who served. According to an article in Social Work Today, women Veterans face some of the following challenges:

  • Sexual assault during active duty
  • Bias against mothers
  • Specific health concerns
  • Homelessness
  • Suicide

It is important we understand that women have different experiences when serving and, as such, have different needs when it comes to healing mentally and physically.

Resources for Women Veterans

Women Veteran Alliance
This national network is focused on directly impacting the quality of life of women Veterans. The Women Veteran Alliance does this successfully through transforming the way the community networks to bring people and programs directly together through a reliable and resourceful platform.

Women Veterans Network
The Women Veterans Network mission is to provide a unique social network of women Veterans to foster connections and build relationships in local communities and across the nation.

Women Veterans Task Force
The bipartisan Women Veterans Task Force, chaired by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) works to increase the visibility of the two million women who have served in the U.S. military and promote inclusivity and equitable access to comprehensive healthcare, benefits, education and economic opportunity, and other federal resources, particularly at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services
The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services is one of the oldest U.S. Department of Defense federal advisory committees. The Committee is composed of civilian women and men appointed by the Secretary of Defense to provide advice and recommendations on matters and policies relating to the recruitment, retention, employment, integration, well-being, and treatment of service women in the Armed Forces.

Operation We Are Here
Operation We Are Here is a coalition of women’s Veterans organizations and women’s advocacy organizations that support women Veterans and military families in the areas of housing , post-traumatic stress disorder, reintegration, TBI, and numerous other areas.

WomenVetsUSA
WomenVetsUSA provides a wealth of services and connections to resources for women Veterans, such as education, employment, finances, healthcare, legal, and other resources.

Additional Resources

Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) is an organization aligned under the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) that develops and executes diversity management and equal opportunity policies and programs affecting active duty and reserve component military personnel, and U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees.

Department of Defense Board on Diversity and Inclusion Report (PDF | 13.9 MB)
This 2020 U.S. Department of Defense report provides recommendations to improve racial and ethnic diversity and inclusion in the U.S. military.

Minority Veterans of America
Minority Veterans of America is a non-partisan, 501(c)3 non-profit organization designed to create belonging and advance equity for underrepresented Veterans, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.

VA Center for Minority Veterans
The VA Center for Minority Veterans offers resources for Veterans of color, including Black, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic Veterans.

Addressing Diversity in PTSD Treatment: Disparities in Treatment Engagement and Outcome among Patients of Color (PDF | 257 KB)
This 2020 study examines racial disparities in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment. PTSD is a prevalent mental disorder characterized by difficulty recovering from exposure to a traumatic event. The prevalence of PTSD varies by race/ethnicity, with studies in U.S. samples indicating higher prevalence and lower treatment use among some racial and ethnic minority groups compared with white people.

The Behavioral Health of Minority Active Duty Service Members
This RAND study examines whether minority-group service members are more likely to experience mental health and substance use problems relative to their majority counterparts in the military. The study also investigates whether minority–majority group differences in behavioral health in the military are similar to or different from those in the civilian population.

Last Updated

Last Updated: 09/09/2022