Motivational Coaching to Enhance Mental Health Engagement in Rural Veterans (COACH)

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VA Office of Research and Development




Veterans Health
Mental Health
Rural Health


Behavioral: Motivational Coaching

Study type


Funder types

Other U.S. Federal agency


CRE 12-083

Details and patient eligibility


The purpose of this study is to investigate health problems among rural Veterans. The research project also aims to test a new telephone-based approach for helping Veterans who need treatment connect with the appropriate care. This study will help us to better understand the kinds of problems Veterans experience. The study will also help us to find better ways to help Veterans get the help they may need.

Full description

Project Background: One in five Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)/Operation New Dawn (OND) Veterans resides in rural areas and primarily receives care from VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs). Compared to their urban counterparts, rural Veterans experience a significantly greater MH burden and poorer outcomes. Nevertheless, less than 10% of OEF/OIF/OND Veterans with a new PTSD diagnosis attend a minimum number of sessions required for evidence-based treatment, with rurality being one of the strongest predictors of poor engagement. The investigators' pilot study in urban OEF/OIF/OND Veterans demonstrated that telephone Motivational Interviewing (MI) delivered by research staff significantly improved MH treatment initiation and retention in care. However, the investigators do not know whether telephone MI will have as strong an effect on MH treatment engagement when implemented by VA staff in CBOCs serving rural Veterans. Project Objectives: As a part of the Center for Mental Healthcare and Outcomes Research (CeMOHR) CREATE application to improve rural Veterans' access to evidence-based mental healthcare, the overall goal of this project is to adapt, implement and test an MI-based coaching intervention to improve MH services engagement at CBOCs serving rural Veterans. The specific aims of this project are: (1) Conduct a developmental formative evaluation of perceived barriers to MH treatment engagement and adapt the MI-based treatment engagement intervention and implementation strategy to the needs of stakeholders; (2) Conduct a randomized multi-site pragmatic effectiveness trial comparing MH Referral alone with MH Referral plus MI-based coaching; and (3) Conduct an implementation-focused formative evaluation and use this information to make mid-course corrections to the implementation strategy based on stakeholder and key informant input. Methods: The investigators will conduct the pragmatic effectiveness trial of the telephone motivational coaching intervention to determine whether, in comparison to MH Referral alone, telephone MI coaching improves MH treatment initiation and retention, the use of e-health MH resources, and perceived need and readiness for and access to MH treatment among rural Veterans who use CBOCs (Aim 2). Impact: This research will help close the knowledge gap about barriers to care and preferences for MH services among rural Veterans. In addition, information from this project will be used to develop implementation toolkits for MH treatment engagement interventions for rural Veterans. Finally, this project will determine the effectiveness of a telephone Motivational Interviewing engagement intervention using e-health adjuncts, thereby filling a gap in the scientific literature about whether novel interventions can be used by VA staff in CBOCs to overcome rural-urban disparities in MH treatment engagement.


418 patients




18+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • a Veteran over age 18
  • a resident of VISN 16 or 21 catchment areas receiving care at a CBOC with no plans to re-locate within 8 months of enrollment
  • positive for 1 or more of the following disorders: PTSD, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, high-risk drinking, and/or illicit substance use

Exclusion criteria

  • hearing- impaired,
  • no working telephone,
  • Veterans with self-reported (and/or CPRS-confirmed) diagnoses of schizophrenia, psychosis or bipolar disorder, or active suicidality or homicidality
  • received mental health treatment within the last 60 days and/or has future appointments for mental health treatment in the next 30 days

Trial design

Primary purpose

Health Services Research



Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Double Blind

418 participants in 2 patient groups

Motivational Coaching
Experimental group
Telephone based Motivational Coaching sessions
Behavioral: Motivational Coaching
Referral alone
No Intervention group
This is the current standard of care

Trial documents

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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