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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Health Status, Service Use, and Costs Among Veterans Receiving Outreach Services in Jail or Community Settings
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Objective: This study compared client characteristics, service use, and health care costs of two groups of veterans who were contacted by outreach workers: a group of veterans who were contacted while incarcerated at the Los Angeles jail and a group of homeless veterans who were contacted in community settings.

Methods: Between May 1, 1997, and October 1, 1999, a total of 1,676 veterans who were in jail and 6,560 community homeless veterans were assessed through a structured intake procedure that documented their demographic, clinical, and social adjustment characteristics. Data on the use and costs of health services during the year after outreach contact were obtained from national databases of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Chi square and t tests were used for statistical comparisons.

Results: The veterans who were contacted in jail obtained higher scores on several measures of social stability (marital status and homelessness status) but had higher rates of unemployment. They had fewer medical problems but higher levels of psychiatric and substance use problems, although the rate of current substance use was lower among these veterans than among the community homeless veterans. One-year service access for the jailed veterans was half that of the community homeless veterans. No differences were observed in the intensity of use of mental health services among those who used services, but the jailed outreach clients used fewer residential, medical, and surgical services. Total health care expenditures for the veterans who received outreach contact in jail were $2,318 less, or 30 percent less, than for those who were contacted through community outreach.

Conclusions: Specialized outreach services appear to be modestly effective in linking veterans who become incarcerated with VA health care services. Although it is clinically challenging to link this group with services, the fact that the rate of current substance use is lower during incarceration may provide a window of opportunity for developing linkages between inmates and community rehabilitative services. (Authors)
Psychiatric Services