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Supporting the Mental Health of Our Veterans

Stigma prevents many people with mental illness from reaching out for assistance. Stigma involves negative attitudes or discrimination based on a characteristic such as a mental illness, health condition or disability. While stigma isn’t limited to mental conditions, people’s attitudes toward mental health and substance use tend to be more negative than for medical conditions.

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

Unfortunately, this presents a big challenge for our military personnel and veterans. The most common mental health struggles for veterans involve PTSD, depression and traumatic brain injury. Left untreated, these conditions can become very serious and debilitating, with impacts felt by veterans themselves and the health professionals and family members trying to help, support and care for them. In addition, substance abuse is a growing concern among both enlisted and retired members of the armed forces.

There are almost 18 million veterans across the U.S. and almost 640,000 veterans across Canada. Yet studies suggest only half of returning service members who need treatment for their mental health actually seek care, with stigma playing a major role as a barrier to treatment.

The suicide rate among American veterans has increased by 25 percent in the last decade. Veterans are nearly twice as likely as non-veterans to take their own lives. In 2015, veterans accounted for 14.3 percent of suicides among U.S. adults but represented only 8.3 percent of the population.

“These statistics show why it’s more important than ever that veterans are encouraged to seek the help they need and deserve,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “On this upcoming Veterans Day and throughout the year, let’s all do our part to support the veterans in our lives and end the stigma associated with mental health.”

Fortunately, there are many great resources available to veterans and to the people who care for and support them.

Helmets to Hardhats

Helmets to Hardhats is a national nonprofit program that connects transitioning active-duty military service members, veterans, National Guard and Reservists with skilled training and quality career opportunities in the construction industry. The program is designed to help military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality career in the construction industry.

The Real Warriors Campaign: promotes a culture of support by encouraging service members, veterans and military families to reach out for help, whether they are coping with the daily stresses of military life or concerns like depression, anxiety and PTSD.

Mental and Physical Health Resources

Cohen Veterans Network: Free virtual mental health services for veterans living in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

Headstrong: offers free and confidential mental health treatment for post-9/11 veterans and their families.

Tricare: health care program for active-duty service members, military retirees and their families temporarily covering telehealth for applied behavior analysis as well as parent or caregiver guidance services.

Vets4Warriors: The military community, family members and caregivers can seek help from this confidential peer support network that operates 24 hours a day. This includes free, long-term peer support through private chat, email, phone and text conversations.

Caregiver Support

Caring for someone with a mental health diagnosis can take a toll, putting family members and loved ones at risk for anxiety, depression and other health problems.

VA Caregiver Support: Local caregiver support coordinators can help you find services in your area. VA’s National Caregiver Support Line (CSL) serves as a primary resource/referral center to assist caregivers, veterans and others seeking caregiver information.

The Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers: provides family caregivers of eligible veterans training, enhanced respite care, counseling, a monthly stipend payment and access to health care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).

Operation Family Caregiver: Offers free and confidential one-on-one virtual coaching to military and veteran caregivers across the country.

Canadian Resources

Veterans Affairs Canada

Legion: serves all veterans, members of the Canadian Armed Forces, RCMP and their families, providing support free of charge.

Need Immediate Help?

If you or someone you love needs immediate help, call the Veteran Crisis Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255. This free, confidential resource is available to anyone, even if you’re not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. The qualified responders at the Veterans Crisis Line are specially trained and experienced in helping veterans of all ages and circumstances.

[Jamie Becker is the Fund’s Director of Health Promotion.]

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