It’s Our Duty to Honor Veterans
This week Americans are saying to our nation’s veterans, “Thank you for your service.” Families are placing flags on the graves of the fallen. Businesses are offering free car washes, haircuts and admission to parks and museums to active duty military, veterans and their families.
But as a Navy veteran and mental health and addictions advocate, I would be remiss if I didn’t shine a spotlight on sustained ways we can pay homage to the those who wear our country’s uniform. With 2.8 million service members deployed since 2001, our veterans and their families are facing some unique challenges abroad and at home.
Most servicemen and women and their families are remarkably resilient. Yet, we can’t ignore the mental and physical health challenges many veterans face – veterans like Tousha Paxton-Barnes, who returned from Afghanistan ready to start a new life, but found herself battling depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sadly, she is not alone.
As many as one-fifth of those who have served in the global war on terror have PTSD, and approximately one in five have a traumatic brain injury. On average, every day in this country, 20 veterans die from suicide. Thanks to advances in body armor and battlefield medicine, nearly 90 percent of soldiers are surviving on the battlefield, only to deal with disabling injuries at home.
And let’s not forget our older veterans, many of whom returned home when they were maligned, rather than thanked for their service.
Our servicemen and women have fought for our freedom, and now it’s our turn to step up.
We must help them fight the battle within. Trauma is widespread, disabling and too often ignored, in both civilian and military life. We must stop asking, “What is wrong with you?” and start asking, “What happened to you?”
We must be available where they need us. Some veterans are ineligible for services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and others prefer to get care in their community. National Council members have answered the call. At the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Metrocare in Addison, TX, veterans and their families receive counseling, medication management and life skills training and can access services from home or work using telemedicine. Peers, including Paxton-Barnes, provide services to their fellow veterans at the Texas Panhandles Centers. Many of the providers at Centerstone Military Services are former service members.
We must be ready when they need us. When a veteran is in crisis, we need to answer the call. National Council members are among the more than 160 local crisis centers nationwide that comprise the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – the Lifeline’s Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK, #1) has answered nearly 2.8 million calls and dispatched emergency services to callers in crisis nearly 74,000 times.
We must speak their language. We need to provide care that recognizes the unique experiences of military members and their families. National Council partner Relias Learning offers a Behavioral Healthcare Certification for Veterans Care Providers that emphasizes cultural sensitivities to ensure clinical competency.
We must support those who love and care for them. Spouses and children are affected by a veteran’s mental illnesses and substance use, and many are their loved one’s primary caregivers. Military caregivers have been called America’s “hidden heroes.” We must engage whole families in care to support those who serve at home.
Finally, we must make it okay for veterans to seek help. We must end the stigma around seeking help for mental illnesses and substance use. We must make clear that getting help for mental health and substance use problems is a sign of strength, not weakness. Mental Health First Aid for Veterans can help people begin that conversation.
Let’s show our nation’s service members, veterans and their families how much we appreciate them by providing them with trauma-informed, science-based mental health and substance use treatment and services in every community in America. It’s the best way to say, “Thank you.”