Posted 10.21.2019 | by AMRA

The United States Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides healthcare for 9 million military veterans across its 1,243 healthcare facilities. While half of all military veterans currently use or are interested in using complementary and integrative approaches to healthcare, little is known about their specific use of mindfulness meditation.

Goldberg et al. [Mindfulness] analyzed VHA survey data assessing veteran utilization of complementary and integrative healthcare techniques to help guide VHA decision-making about expanding mindfulness training opportunities within their healthcare system.

The VHA Survey asked 1,230 military veterans (85% male; 90% Caucasian; age range = 18-65+ years; modal age= 65+ years) who volunteered to complete the survey about their utilization of 22 different complementary and integrative health approaches. Veterans responded to questions about their use of the approaches, why they used them, their perceived effectiveness, and any barriers encountered in accessing them.

The results showed that 18% of the veteran sample had used mindfulness meditation in the past year. Utilization was highest for female and Hispanic veterans, divorced, widowed, or separated veterans, and for those 35-49 years of age. Mindfulness meditation use was lowest for veterans 65 years of age or older or married.

Mindfulness meditation was the third most frequently used of the 22 approaches, exceeded only by massage and chiropractic care. It was used significantly more often than 19 other approaches, including acupuncture, relaxation, movement therapy, reflexology, imagery, biofeedback, hypnosis, tai chi, and qi gong.

Of those who used mindfulness meditation, 28% reported using it every day, 18% a few times a week, 20% a few times a month, 11% once a month, and 22% a few times a year. Most veterans reported using it for purposes of stress reduction (73%), and/or symptoms of anxiety and depression (51%). Other reasons for use included PTSD, sleep problems, relationships issues, pain, and blood pressure control.

Respondents’ average ratings for perceived effectiveness of mindfulness meditation was 3.2 on a 5-point scale, where “3” meant “somewhat helpful” and “4” meant “moderately helpful.” These ratings did not differ significantly from the veteran ratings for the other complementary and integrative approaches.

Only 22% of the mindfulness meditators received mindfulness training through the VHA. The majority of veterans (59%) who received mindfulness training outside the VHA said they did not know whether or not the VHA offered it. It was unclear whether the VHA actually offered training that the veterans were unaware of, or whether the service was in fact not offered by their local VHA facility.

The results show that a significant number of veterans engage in mindfulness meditation, and that veteran utilization (18%) appears higher than an estimate of general population use (2.5%). Veteran meditators find mindfulness to be at least somewhat helpful, and most veterans (66%) who engage in it do so at least a few times a month.

These results lend support to VHA efforts to increase the availability of mindfulness training for veterans and to better publicize existing programs. The study is limited by a volunteer sample that may not be representative of the entire veteran population.

Reference:

Goldberg, S. B., Zeliadt, S. B., Hoggatt, K. J., Simpson, T. L., Fortney, J. C., & Taylor, S. L. (2019). Utilization and perceived effectiveness of mindfulness meditation in veterans: Results from a national survey. Mindfulness.

[Link to study]