Many veterans struggle with mental health, substance abuse
Approximately 3.9 million American Military Veterans struggle with drug addictions and mental illness. Early intervention, treatment and community support can help them overcome these challenges.
On Memorial Day, millions of American families will take the time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their life while serving in the U.S. military. It can be a somber time for veterans and their families. Unfortunately, countless veterans have lost their lives after returning home from service. Substance use, mental health disorders and suicide are all too common among veterans. We must never lose sight of the many veterans struggling with these problems.
North Dakota has over 50,000 veterans, most of whom are wartime vets. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are unfortunately common among veterans ages 18 to 49. Michael Leach, a certified clinical medical assistant, stressed the importance of early intervention.
“Early intervention is critical, but many veterans face barriers when accessing treatment. It’s also important for communities to advocate for more help and easy access to services,” Leach said.
There are many causative factors for why veterans begin struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Many veterans find it challenging to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships and difficulty finding employment and accessing benefits.
Veterans are also at a higher risk of experiencing mental and emotional health concerns. They also battle physical injury and chronic pain. Untreated trauma impacts every aspect of life. One or all of these issues combined can lead to drug and alcohol use as a means of coping.
Additionally, veterans face barriers when accessing support. This can include cost and gaps in health insurance. Stigma regarding mental illness and addiction is still prominent. Inadequate funding for programs for vets is also common. Veterans in rural communities often have limited access to treatment and support.
Many families turn to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs utilizing the VA facility locator. Yet, there are other support options to consider:
- The North Dakota Veterans Affairs office helps veterans and their dependents obtain benefits and other supports
- Veterans Inc. provides services throughout North Dakota to assist veterans with employment training
- Helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443
- SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific help for substance use or mental health issues
Families also play a critical role in supporting their loved ones struggling with substance use. It’s important to speak to them openly and honestly about their drug or alcohol use. Express concern but refrain from passing judgment. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are going through. Remember, substance use disorders and mental health issues are treatable.
It takes families and communities coming together to help those veterans who are battling these problems in silence. It’s not easy to reach out for help. On Memorial Day, we remember those we lost. Yet, outside of this day, we must never forget those who made it home but are fighting a new battle.