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Addressing Veteran Mental Health on Memorial Day

Content Warning: This post discusses mental illness and suicide as it effects those who have served in the Armed Forces.

Memorial Day is a time for honoring the brave people who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the United States. While we remember those who have fallen, it’s also crucial to recognize the ongoing struggles faced by many veterans who return home, and those who are lost in service not on the battlefield but to the battles within them. Mental health issues such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the tragically high rates of veteran suicide stand out as critical areas needing our attention and action.

The Hidden Wounds of War

The transition from military to civilian life can be a jarring experience for many veterans. Combat experiences often leave lasting psychological impacts, and PTSD is one of the most common and severe outcomes. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, between 11-20% of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD in a given year. For those who served in the Gulf War of the 1990’s, that number is about 12%, and for Vietnam veterans, it is estimated to be around 30% at some point in their lives.

PTSD can manifest in various ways, including flashbacks, severe anxiety, nightmares, and uncontrollable thoughts about the traumatic event. These symptoms can disrupt daily life, making it difficult for veterans to maintain relationships, hold jobs, or even find peace within their own minds.

The Epidemic of Veteran Suicide

Equally alarming is the rate of suicide among veterans. Statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that in 2020, the suicide rate for veterans was 57% higher than for non-veteran adults. According to the latest available data, on average, 17 veterans die by suicide every day. This is a sobering reminder of the immense mental health crisis affecting those who have served the United States.

Several factors contribute to this tragic trend, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and a lack of adequate mental health support. The transition to civilian life is sometimes accompanied by feelings of isolation, loss of purpose and community, exacerbating these issues.

Breaking the Stigma and Seeking Help

One of the most significant barriers to addressing veteran mental health is the stigma associated with seeking help. Many people, veterans included, feel that admitting to a mental health struggle is a sign of weakness or a betrayal of the warrior mentality and training that aided them in their service. This perception prevents many from accessing the support and treatment they need.

To combat this, it’s essential to foster a culture where mental health is openly discussed and where seeking help is seen as a sign of strength. Programs like the Veterans Crisis Line (Dial 988 then press 1) provide immediate assistance, and organizations such as the PTSD Foundation of America, Stop Soldier Suicide, and Mission 22 offer resources and support for veterans and their families.

Community Support and Advocacy

Communities play a crucial role in supporting veterans’ mental health. On Memorial Day, as we honor those who have served and sacrificed, let us also commit to advocating for better mental health resources and support systems for our veterans. Here are a few ways we can make a difference:

  • Raise Awareness: Use platforms to educate others about PTSD and veteran suicide. Share stories, statistics, and resources to bring these issues to the forefront of public consciousness.
  • Support Legislation: Advocate for policies that provide comprehensive mental health care for veterans. This includes funding for VA hospitals, mental health programs, and initiatives aimed at reducing veteran homelessness.
  • Volunteer: Get involved with local or national organizations dedicated to veteran support. Whether it’s through fundraising, providing peer support or mentorship, or simply offering a listening ear.
  • Encourage Veterans to Seek Help: If you know a veteran who might be struggling, encourage them to seek help. Listen without judgment or minimizing feelings. Be supportive and understanding, and help them navigate available resources. The United States Veteran Administration (VA) provides a S.A.V.E. training brochure that will help you act with care and compassion if you come across a Veteran who is in crisis or having thoughts of suicide. The acronym S.A.V.E. helps you remember the important steps involved in suicide prevention:
    • Signs of suicidal thinking should be recognized
    • Ask the most important question of all – Are you thinking of killing yourself?
    • Validate the Veteran’s experience
    • Encourage treatment and expedite getting help

    This Memorial Day, as we pay tribute to those who have given their lives for their country, let us also remember those who continue to fight battles that last past deployment. Addressing veteran mental health, PTSD, and suicide requires our collective effort, compassion, and commitment. By supporting our veterans, we honor their service and ensure that their sacrifices are never forgotten.

    If you or a veteran you know is in crisis, please contact the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 and then and pressing 1, or visit their website for more resources. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those who have given so much for us.

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