Veterans’ perceptions of racial bias in VA mental healthcare and their impacts on patient engagement and patient-provider communication

Johanne Eliacin, Marianne S. Matthias, Brooke Cunningham, Diana J. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objectives: Drawing from social identity threat theory, which posits that stigmatized groups are attuned to situational cues that signal racial bias, we examined how African-American veterans evaluate verbal and non-verbal cues in their mental health encounters. We also explored how their evaluations of perceived racial bias might influence their healthcare engagement behaviors and communication. Methods: We interviewed 85 African-American veterans who were receiving mental health services from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), examining their views and experiences of race in healthcare. We analyzed the data using a constructivist grounded theory approach. Results: Participants identified several identity threatening cues that include lack of racial diversity representation in healthcare settings, and perceptions of providers’ fears of Black patients. We describe how participants evaluated situational cues as identity threats, and how these cues affected their engagement behaviors and healthcare communication. Conclusion: Our findings revealed situational cues within clinical encounters that create for Black veterans, fear of being negatively judged based on stereotypes that have characterized African-Americans. Practice Implications: We discuss the implications of these findings and provide suggestions on how to create identity safe environments for minority patients that include delivery of person-centered care, and organizational structures that reduce providers’ burnout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1798-1804
Number of pages7
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Veterans Affairs Health Service Research & Development PPO # 13-39 (PI: Eliacin) and Veterans Affairs Health Service Research & Development Research Career Scientist Award [#RCS 10-185] to Dr. Burgess. Dr. Eliacin and Matthias were also supported in part by VA HSR&D Center for Health Information and Communication, CIN 13-416. In addition, Dr. Eliacin received support from a VA HSR&D Career Development Award CDA 16-153 (PI: Eliacin).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020


  • Healthcare communication
  • Minority patients
  • Patient engagement behaviors
  • Qualitative research

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


Dive into the research topics of 'Veterans’ perceptions of racial bias in VA mental healthcare and their impacts on patient engagement and patient-provider communication'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this