The specter of mental illness can make patients feel like they are fighting a battle alone. Nowhere is that truer than in rural America. Communities there face the additional challenges of medical facility closures and a lack of nearby mental health providers. In fact, 93% of rural counties have no licensed psychologists, a problem that will only worsen as an aging clinical workforce collides with a lack of new recruits.

Like many of their urban counterparts, rural Veterans grapple with the stigma of seeking professional help. In many close-knit rural communities, seeking professional care for a mental health disorder can be met with negativity and judgement by family and friends.

This stigma leads many rural Veterans to confide instead in trusted community members such as faith leaders. Research shows that 25% of people struggling with their mental health will first seek guidance from clergy, compared to 17% who first consult a doctor.

These rural clergy are in a unique position to ensure that Veterans feel heard and empower them to take advantage of the mental health care they have earned through VA.

Program connects rural clergy with mental health resources

To help rural faith leaders assist Veterans in distress, VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH) and the VA National Chaplain Service partnered to launch the Rural Community Clergy Training Program (RCCTP), a multi-faith initiative that equips rural clergy with the tools they need to serve as important connectors between rural Veterans and mental health care resources.

Through the program, rural clergy attend workshops to learn about the psychological and spiritual effects of military trauma and the resources available for those who want help.

Clergy are trained on a variety of topics, including:

  • Suicide prevention.
  • Mental health services and referrals.
  • Building community partnerships to address mental health crisis.
  • How to refer Veterans to their local VA and community health care facilities.

Partnership making significant impact in rural communities

Since it launched in 2010:

  • More than 8,200 clergy, chaplains, mental health professionals and others who support rural Veterans have received training.
  • More than 95% of participants would recommend the program to someone else.
  • 97% of participants report an increased understanding of the mental health needs of Veterans returning from combat.

Through the program, rural clergy are equipped with a thorough knowledge of VA and community-based mental health services. They are ready to assist a Veteran in need should they want to seek help. This training empowers rural clergy to help Veterans take the first step to receiving the care they need.

To learn more about the Rural Community Clergy Training Program, please watch this video. To learn more about the VA Office of Rural Health, please visit our website.

If you or a Veteran you know needs assistance, please visit the VA mental health website at mentalhealth.va.gov or call the Veterans Crisis Line:

  • Call 800-273-8255, then select 1.
  • Or text 838255.

By Thomas Klobucar is executive director of the VHA Office of Rural Health

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Published on Mar. 16, 2022

Estimated reading time is 2.4 min.

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2 Comments

  1. James Baca March 16, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    Everything the VA does for mental healthcare has been nothing but lip service. It is impossible to get mental healthcare from the VA. They just don’t care.

  2. Harold A Maio March 16, 2022 at 2:47 pm

    —stigma leads many rural Veterans to confide instead in trusted community members such as faith leaders. Research shows that 25% of people struggling with their mental health will first seek guidance from clergy, compared to 17% who first consult a doctor.

    You say it is “stigma”, I say it is the willngness of us to teach it is stigma.

    Harold A Maio

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