by Nicole Fisher (Forbes)
[There is something seriously wrong with this picture. As a society, we need to investigate this far more deeply. — GV]
Since the end of World War I, Americans have celebrated those who served our country. Each Veterans Day there are countless parades, events, speeches and even store discounts for those who have served their country. Yet, our deepest gratitude and unparalleled respect for the men and women who keep us safe often fails at repaying them in the ways they need it most when they return.
This Veterans Day, as we say thank you, let’s ensure that we have a better understanding of the difficult mental and physical health issues that millions of our veterans face each day. Here are a few important and staggering statistics to give better context about the battles these heroes fight when they get home:
- At least 20% of the veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research. Further, 20% of veterans in these two categories have admitted they have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, the New England Journal of Medicine published in 2008 that military members who experienced a traumatic brain injury were more than twice as likely to suffer from PTSD later on than service members who did not suffer a TBI. The reported numbers are considered to be significantly lower than the effects felt in the population due to social stigma and lack of services available.
- Only 50% of returning veterans who need mental health treatment will receive services, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Despite that, the number of those willing to or able to seek care is growing. In the five-year period from 2006-2010, the U.S. Government Accountability Officeestimated that 2.1 million veterans received some sort of mental health treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Women veterans are four times as likely to become homeless as male veterans, while all returning veterans are twice as likely to become chronically homeless as other Americans.We know that homelessness and trauma go hand-in-hand. In fact, women who return from service are much more susceptible to unemployment and trauma of all kinds.
- Shockingly, it is estimated that 1/3 of adult homeless men and nearly 1/4 of all homeless adults have served in the armed forces.Although far too high, the number of homeless veterans in America has declined by 33% (or 24,837 people) from 2010 due to national efforts to deal with the problem. Yet, in January 2014 it was estimated that 49,933 veterans were still homeless according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the VA and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- Of those known homeless veterans, 91% are male, 98% are single, 76% live in a city and 54% have a mental and/or physical disability. 39% of the total homeless veteran population is black, while constituting only 11% of the total veteran population.
- Painkillers and PTSD are the twin pillars of a new crisis in America, per mental health experts. The VA has gained a reputation for treating many veterans with powerful painkillers (opioids) for their mental and physical pain. However, opioids are addictive and as the prescriptions become the lifeline of treatment, the increased risk of dependency skyrockets.
- According to data published by the VA, an average of 20 veterans died from suicide every day in 2014. In that year 7,403 American veterans committed suicide–compared to the national number for 2014, which was 41,425 suicides. For reference, from 2010-2014 suicide among adult U.S. civilians increased 23% while veteran suicides increased 32%.
If you know a veteran in need, please use the following resources to assist in getting them the care they need.
- A 24/7 veterans crisis line has been set up for suicide prevention. Please call 1-800-273-TALK and press 1 to reach highly skilled responders trained in suicide prevention and crisis intervention. There is also a DoD/VA Suicide Outreach: Resources for Suicide Prevention.
- The National Call Center for Homeless Veteranscan be reached at 1-877-424-3838. If you are a veteran who is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, you can contact the National VA Call Center 24/7. You can also chat live online 24/7 through the Homeless Veterans Chat service.
- A list of homeless veterans programs can be found here.
- The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) runs a resource center that provides information and resources about psychological health, PTSD and TBI. The center can be contacted 24/7 by phone at 866-966-1020, by email at email@example.com, or you can also go to DCoE Outreach Center Live Chat.