We present a study of various models for the mode-locked pulse dynamics in a vertical external-cavity surface emitting laser with a saturable absorber. The semiconductor Bloch equations are used to model microscopically the light-matter interaction and the carrier dynamics. Maxwell's equations describe the pulse propagation. Scattering contributions due to higher order correlation effects are approximated using effective rates that are found from a comparison to solving the microscopic scattering equations on the second Born-Markov level. It is shown that the simulations result in the same mode-locked final state whether the system is initialized with a test pulse close to the final mode-locked pulse or the full field build-up from statistical noise is considered. The influence of the cavity design is studied. The longest pulses are found for a standard V-cavity while a linear cavity and a V-cavity with an high reflectivity mirror in the middle are shown to produce similar, much shorter pulses.