Assessing the Needs of Arkansas Military Veterans: Barriers to Benefit Access

During the summer of 2011, three students received Undergraduate Research Credit by working with Dr. Leitz on research designed to understand what, if any, barriers existed for Arkansas veterans in their attempts to access military benefits. Since this research investigates an area where there is little existing data, we developed a qualitative research design intended to give an broad picture of the various benefits and post-deployment reintegration of Arkansas veterans. Students worked for 8 weeks, averaging 40 hours per week on the design and implementation of this research. Students were actively involved in the recruitment and interviewing of participants, transcribing audio interviews, and initial coding of data. Additionally, students co-wrote a summary of their findings and prepared presentation for the 2011 Inter-University Seminar on Forces and Society. All students traveled to Chicago to discuss their findings at this conference.

 

Military, media, and academic sources point to the difficulties U.S. military veterans experience when attempting to access physical and mental healthcare as well as other veteran benefits. Using qualitative interviews with 27 Arkansas veterans of the current U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we explore veterans’ use of their physical and mental health, educational, and disability benefits. These interviews reveal areas where veterans have little trouble accessing benefits and areas where there are considerable barriers to their benefits. Generally, veteran interviewees with the greatest needs (and least social capital) experienced the greatest difficulty accessing their benefits. Many veterans lacked significant knowledge of their benefits which prevented them from understanding that they were eligible for benefits. The majority of veterans experienced significant bureaucratic barriers involving lengthy (and costly) delays, lacking and or too complex information, misinformed or uncaring VA workers, and lost paperwork. This research also illuminates declining stigmas related to military usage of mental healthcare and of the quality of VA healthcare. The research also reveals serious problems with end-of-duty training that suggest an overhaul of the present programs.