November 10, 2008, Tucson, Arizona – This Veterans Day, we can do more than fly the flag and express our deep appreciation for sacrifices made during wartime.
Thousands of veterans are in need of mental health and addiction services. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to increase the demand on an already stretched Department of Veterans Affairs, and the stigma attached to mental illness prevents many veterans from seeking needed treatment.
The invisible scars carried home by veterans can present challenges for years to come. Nearly 300,000 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from either post-traumatic stress or depression, according to a recent study by the RAND Corporation. These problems are complicated by the many traumatic brain injuries and other physical wounds suffered by veterans of the current wars.
A recent investigation by CBS News found that young veterans who served during the war on terror have a suicide rate two to four times higher than civilians the same age. Yet the stigma of seeking help for mental-health issues continues to haunt our veterans.
A 2004 study of 6,000 military men and women involved in ground combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan found that of those whose responses indicated a mental-health problem, only 23 percent to 40 percent sought psychiatric help. Many who did not seek treatment cited fear of being stigmatized as a reason.
Resources are being mobilized across the country to address this public-health issue. In Tucson, the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona has joined discussions involving the VA and congressional representatives about how the VA and the public behavioral-health system can best partner to meet the evolving needs of veterans.
The Southern Arizona VA Health Care System recently opened a new holistic primary care and mental-health clinic, and also offers an intensive inpatient program for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Still, veterans face the stigma of reaching out for this help, and they shouldn’t have to do it alone. We all can show appreciation for veterans’ sacrifices by helping them overcome the stigma of mental illness and addiction. Some easy steps include:
? Talk about your family’s experiences with mental illness and addiction as matter-of-factly as you would any other medical condition.
? Find the facts about mental illness and addiction. Read and ask questions about these conditions and watch for local presentations on mental-health issues.
? Support veterans groups and local mental-health center’s efforts to make mental health and addiction treatment available in every community.
These are just a few ways we can express our appreciation on this Veterans Day – by helping those who have sacrificed for us.
To get help
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, available 24 hours a day every day, is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Veterans should press “1” after being connected to speak with VA suicide-prevention and mental-health professionals.
Locally, veterans also may call the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation Behavioral Health Services’ 24-hour line at 622-6000 for help in a crisis, or the Southern Arizona Veterans Affairs Health Care System at 792-1450, Ext. 4523 or 6353, for information on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder programs.