A Pilot Study Comparing Two Measures of Perceived Health Services Access Among Military Veterans With Musculoskeletal Injuries and Mental Health Conditions

Michelle M. Hilgeman, Robert J. Cramer, Matthew C. Hoch, Amber N. Collins, Sasha Zabelski, Nicholas R. Heebner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Service members endure a number of musculoskeletal injuries (MSIs) during service (e.g., ankle sprains and chronic back pain). Musculoskeletal injuries can reduce engagement in physical activity after military service and contribute to a sedentary lifestyle that diminishes physical health and elevates the risk for psychological distress including suicide-related behaviors. Yet, little is known about barriers and facilitators to accessing care in veterans with co-occurring MSI and mental health conditions. The purpose of this study was to pilot two brief measures of barriers and facilitators to rehabilitation and mental health services in military veterans with musculoskeletal and mental health conditions. Self-report tools vary in their response formats in ways that can impact usability, data quality, and completeness. We examine two response styles (i.e., checklist vs. thermometer) for two health services (mental health and rehabilitation) to determine usability, patterns in item endorsement, and veteran preference. Materials and Methods: Barriers and facilitators informed by the Fortney Veterans Healthcare Access model were assessed by veterans (n = 31) on the newly developed 22-item, paper-and-pencil scale with separate ratings for mental health and rehabilitation services. All participants completed scales with both response styles and the order of administration was randomized (i.e., either the checklist first or the thermometer-style response first). Data also included self-reported demographics, musculoskeletal and mental health diagnoses, health-related quality of life, physical activity levels, mental health symptoms, suicide risk, and coronavirus disease of 2019 pandemic-related stress. Results: Veterans reported no differences in ease of use across response formats; however, 83.9% (n = 26) preferred the checklist style, with only 3.22% (n = 1) preferring the thermometer format. Checklist items also resulted in less missing data (i.e., range 0.00%-6.45%) than the thermometer-style option (i.e., range 6.45%-61.30%). On the checklist, total number of perceived barriers was low for mental health and rehabilitation services (i.e., M = 1.58 and M = 1.61, respectively). Distance to care and problems related to symptoms were the most frequently identified barriers for both services. Facilitators outnumbered barriers for mental and rehabilitation services, and nearness of the clinic/hospital was the top-rated facilitator for both. On the thermometer, the perceived strength of each mental health (M = 39.37) and rehabilitation (M = 39.81) service barrier was moderate (0-100 scale), while the average perceived strength of each mental health (M = 61.66) and rehabilitation service (M = 61.84) facilitator was higher. Associations between barrier and facilitator scores with mental and physical health indicators were small with exceptions. For instance, suicide attempt likelihood was positively correlated with rehabilitation services barriers; mental health burden was positively associated with both barriers and facilitators. Conclusions: Results of this pilot comparing two measurement approaches identified actionable next steps. Brief barriers and facilitators checklists were viable for veteran ratings across type of health. The thermometer-based tool captured the perceived strength of barriers and facilitators but yielded problematic rates of missing data in its current form and was not preferred by veterans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2363-E2372
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - Jul 1 2023

Bibliographical note

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© 2023 Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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