Mode-locked VECSELs using SESAMs are a relatively less complex and cost-effective alternative to state-of-the-art ultrafast lasers based on solid-state or fiber lasers. VECSELs have seen considerable progress in device performance in terms of pulse width and peak power in the recent years. However, it appears that the combination of high power and short pulses can cause some irreversible damage to the SESAM. The degradation mechanism, which can lead to a reduction of the VECSEL output power over time, is not fully understood and deserves to be investigated and alleviated in order to achieve stable mode-locking over long periods of time. It is particularly important for VECSEL systems meant to be commercialized, needing long term operation with a long product lifetime. Here, we investigate the performance and robustness of a SESAM-modelocked VECSEL system under intense pulse intensity excitation. The effect of the degradation on the VECSEL performance is investigated using the SESAM in a VECSEL cavity supporting ultrashort pulses, while the degradation mechanism was investigated by exciting the SESAMs with an external femtosecond laser source. The decay of the photoluminescence (PL) and reflectivity under high excitation was monitored and the damaged samples were further analyzed using a thorough Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) analysis. It is found that the major contribution to the degradation is the field intensity and that the compositional damage is confined to the DBR region of the SESAM.