Article Published: 11/9/2022
A 2021 study by the Wounded Warrior Project provided some remarkable insights into the mental health of veterans. Among those surveyed, 48.2% had at least one instance of suicidal ideation in their lives and 15.5% had attempted suicide once. Considering that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates the number of veterans to be about 19 million helps put into perspective the vast number of individuals struggling with mental health concerns.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 37%–50% of the veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have since been diagnosed with a disorder linked to an SUD, and 63% of those individuals also have PTSD. Additionally, service members have a rate of depression 5 times higher than civilians, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
For veterans who are seeking mental health services, there are several resources available from the VA. More than 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal year 2018, according to the VA’s Office of Research & Development. The U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that one-third of those individuals had at least one diagnosed mental health condition. The VA offers several evidence-based programs and other resources to address the needs of veterans:
Mental health resources are also available from several organizations outside of the VA. They include:
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Real Warriors Campaign, which provides information about PTSD and traumatic brain injury. It is available 24/7 at 1-866-966-1020 and is offered through the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
The National Veterans Foundation addresses crisis management. Its Lifeline for Vets, a vet-to-vet service, helps provide resources for vets seeking counseling and those with other needs. The number is 888-777-4443.
Additional efforts to increase access to mental health care services for veterans are being made at the federal level.
NBCC has advocated for increased recognition and hiring of professional counselors by the VA for several years, efforts that resulted in the passage of a law in 2006 adding licensed professional mental health counselors to the list of professions eligible for VA employment.
Additionally, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act was signed into law in October of 2020. It will address mental health care delivery issues in the VA including suicide prevention, integrating mental health care services and primary care, and updating clinical practice guidelines.
In conclusion, the unique challenges and experiences that members of our military and their families face necessitate increased access to reliable, culturally informed mental health services specific to their needs.
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