Mental health of veterans: dealing with the lingering effects of war | Health news from the healthiest communities

March 20, 2023 marks two decades since the US invasion of Iraq, and millions of Americans have answered the call to serve our country in uniform over the past 20 years. But even with US forces no longer actively fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, our country still faces unmet needs too many military personnel They face barriers in accessing mental health care.

Failure to address veterans’ mental health needs can cost lives. A 2021 report Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimated that more than 30,000 serving soldiers and veterans of the post-9/11 wars had died by suicide. That’s four times the number of people lost in battle.

Another risk is that veterans abuse substances to heal the invisible wounds of war. However, access to substance use disorder treatment remains a challenge as veterans all too often face unacceptably long delays try to get help.

But even veterans with access to mental health resources can struggle to get the help they deserve. Military culture often emphasizes toughness and confidence, which causes some veterans to fear how they might be perceived if they seek medical assistance. The Wounded Warrior Project offers free mental health support to post-9/11 veterans, but many still turn it down, thinking they may be draining resources from someone who needs them more.

For these reasons, a diverse approach that improves our veterans’ awareness, education, and access to care is critical.

Mental health problems are more common than physical wounds

According to the Wounded Warrior Project Annual Warrior Survey, mental health problems were three of the four most common service-related injuries among veterans enrolled with the nonprofit who served either on or after 9/11, and three out of four of these veterans reported post-traumatic stress. According to the survey, similar proportions of respondents reported suffering from anxiety and depression, and half of the veterans reported moderate to severe symptoms of two or more mental illnesses at the time of the survey.

These conditions require the same urgency as physical injury. Mental health problems can be difficult to overcome and manage if left untreated, and can have long-term social, emotional, and cognitive consequences. The impact can prevent veterans from realizing the fullness of their professional and personal futures and impair their ability to thrive after service.

Veteran families also deserve resources

Military families are not immune to the emotional toll of war. Family and close friends are often among the first people veterans turn to regarding their difficulties in transitioning from military service. The pressure to provide this support can impact the well-being of a loved one, especially those supporting critically injured veterans who need long-term care.

Mental health resources must be accessible to experienced caregivers and families to manage the psychological impact of military service. However, there are not enough mental health providers to meet this need. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 163 million Americans live in areas that lack mental health providers.

Some veteran service organizations are bridging the gap by providing family members with access to mental health support and resources. The Wounded Warrior Project, for example, supports family members and caregivers through programs such as WWP Talkwhere they can participate in weekly calls focused on goal setting and strengthening coping strategies.

Partnerships are another way to support caregivers and families. An example: The Coalition of Hidden Helpersbacked by the White House concentration of forces The initiative aims to address the needs of children caring for injured veterans. Over 70 organizations, including nonprofits and businesses, are part of the coalition. Efforts like these help military members gain skills, access tools, and find support for their spiritual well-being.

Find your role in supporting veterans’ mental health

You don’t have to be a veteran service organization to support your employees, neighbors, or friends with military connections. Understanding the issues faced by veterans can increase your sensitivity and advocate for veterans and their mental health needs.

Policymakers can drive legislation, funding, and advocacy to ensure veterans have access to the quality of care they deserve. In January, the Department of Veterans Affairs, backed by federal law, made the decision announced Access free crisis care for veterans who are struggling with suicide, whether or not they are enrolled in the VA.

Business leaders can also create a culture of support for military families within their organization and community. Johnson & Johnson’s Veterans Leadership Council, for example, develops programs and initiatives to help experienced employees achieve their full potential while addressing the unique health and wellness needs of the military-connected community. CSX, a leader in national transportation, not only focuses on veteran recruitment, but also brings employees and community members together with veterans to create important tools and awareness through the company Pride in service Initiative.

Public education can also break down stereotypes and misconceptions about veterans’ mental health and encourage open, informative conversations that help normalize mental health care seeking. For Veterans Day 2021, the Ad Council and the VA have worked on a campaign called ” “Don’t wait, grab it” to destigmatize asking for help. The Wounded Warrior Project also runs social media campaigns #CombatStigma to raise awareness and break down barriers to asking for help. Participating in these conversations sends a strong message of support and helps ensure resources reach those in need.

At the same time, it is important for mental health professionals to share best practices for caring for groups with unique experiences, such as veterans. This was the trigger for founding the Warrior Care Network, a network of mental health and brain health professionals specializing in treating veterans. A two-week intensive post-traumatic stress disorder outpatient program coupled with follow-up care and peer support that offers a condensed treatment model with high completion rates significant reduction in PTSD symptoms. This innovative model allows veterans to feel better faster and maintain their well-being over the long term.

Everyone can help support veterans’ mental health. Together we can improve the way we care for those who live up to our nation’s calling. Through such efforts, we pay off our debts to the individuals and families who have sacrificed so much for us.

If you are a veteran struggling with suicidal thoughts, call 988 or text 838255 to get in touch Veterans Hotline. For information on the resources available from the Wounded Warrior Project, see

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