Veteran’s Day is a time for people across the United States to pay their respects to those who have served in the military. However, it’s also an opportunity to help veterans who may be silently struggling with addiction. Approximately 11 percent of veterans undergoing first-time care in the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system meet criteria for a substance use disorder. In many cases, these substance use disorders co-occur with other mental health conditions, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
These high rates of veteran addiction and mental illness can partially be attributed to a number of factors, including chronic pain and psychological trauma from combat situations. Without a job to come back to, a strong social support system or adequate, affordable health care, other veterans may use alcohol and drugs to ease a difficult transition back to civilian life.
Veteran mental health is a crisis in the United States that needs to be addressed. While there are many ways to honor veterans on Veterans Day, the most meaningful involve activities that address these mental health challenges and lead to measurable improvements in veterans’ lives.
1. Spend Time with the Vets in Your Life
Addiction and mental illness can be incredibly isolating conditions. Without the support of friends, family and mental health care professionals, it can be easy for a veteran to sink into a lonely, helpless existence. Even in the absence of a diagnosed mental health condition, many veterans feel a sense of detachment from their loved ones after returning from their service. Very few people can relate to the experiences that many veterans go through during combat. Often, well-meaning friends and family may not know how to talk to the veterans in their lives about what they’ve been through. At the risk of offending or upsetting them, they may opt not to ask about their service at all.
The desire for connection is an innate need that all humans share — including veterans. It can be hard to tell from the outside who is lacking that connection, and many veterans may simply be too proud to reach out when they’re struggling. Don’t wait for your loved one to come to you in crisis. Take the chance, and be the first one to reach out and ask the hard questions. If the veteran in your life is grappling with an addiction or mental illness, you may be providing them with an opportunity to open up about their condition. A conversation like that isn’t just empowering — it could save their life.
2. Learn MoreBefore any problem can be solved, it must first be understood. This goes for veteran mental health, too. Learning more about the current state of veteran mental health in the U.S. is an important first step toward recognizing the full extent of the problem.
Fast Facts About Veteran Mental Health
- Nearly 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or PTSD, according to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research.
- Approximately 50 percent of all returning veterans who need mental health treatment seek it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Of those who do seek out care, only slightly more than half receive adequate treatment.
- In 2016, the suicide rate of veterans was 1.5 greater than the suicide rate for non-veteran adults, according to a recent VA National Suicide Data Report.
The data is clear — more needs to be done to address veteran mental health in the United States. This can start with you. By learning more about the experiences veterans have during combat and the challenges they face after returning home from service, you’ll be better equipped to help them. Don’t keep this newfound insight to yourself — share it with people you know, too. By spreading awareness to others in your life, you can help increase the public’s consciousness of veterans issues. The more people who know about the problem, the more people can help.
There are a number of online veteran resources available to learn more about veteran mental health and addiction, including the U.S. Department of VA, the National Veteran Foundation and Disabled American Veterans. The Recovery Village also has also written extensively about the subject on our Substance Abuse Resources for Veterans resource page.
3. Take Time to Give Back
There are many organizations that help prevent and address veteran mental illness, including government-funded institutions, churches, charities and non-profits. By using some of your free time to assist these groups, you can directly help veterans who are struggling.
Volunteer at your local VA hospital to help with veteran health care. Make the transition back to civilian life easier by providing veteran job training with an organization like Hire Heroes. Build a house for a homeless veteran with Homes for Our Troops. Whatever you decide to do, veterans and the people who spend their lives assisting them will appreciate you taking time out of your day to help them.
Physicians, clinicians and substance abuse professionals at The Recovery Village have helped thousands of clients take the first step toward recovery, including former members of the military. If you or a veteran you know struggles with a substance use disorder, know that professional treatment that heals is available. It all starts with a call. Reach out to a representative today for more information, or to get started.
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