In Honor of Veterans, 2009This Veterans Day, as we honor the sacrifices made by soldiers who’ve served and those who continue to do so, we mark the 91st anniversary of the end of World War I. It seems so long ago to most of us — ancient history. Yet history is a teacher and if we don’t listen, we’re bound to repeat the same mistakes.

The mistake we’re repeating today is not doing enough to recognize and take care of veterans’ mental health needs. This isn’t some feel good mantra. This is a very real need that the military continues to have problems meeting. A professional, nonprofit that represents 1,600 behavioral healthcare organizations released a press release yesterday detailing some of the continuing issues.

“For instance, while the Veterans Mental Health Act was signed into law more than a year ago, a new survey released today by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare (National Council) finds that veterans still face significant barriers to accessing mental health and substance use treatment. The Act requires the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with community behavioral health centers to increase capacity and expand mental health services to include marriage and family counseling.

“The survey of National Council members nationwide shows some of the most
serious roadblocks that prevent veterans from getting treatment include:

  • Access to Care: Almost two-thirds of respondents said veterans and their families experience long delays to get initial appointments for people in crisis and excessive waits in between appointments.
  • Long Distances: Veterans often must travel long distances to the VA or a military base. Travel times can be as long as five hours in rural areas. Others do not have access to a vehicle or public transportation, or may be unable to drive or take public transportation because of physical and
    mental limitations.
  • Stigma: Many veterans are concerned that seeking treatment from the VA or military will be noted in their personnel records, negatively impact their careers, and label them as “weak” or “crazy.”
  • Lack of Family Involvement: Though the Act specifically includes marriage and family counseling, few family members are involved in treatment. Respondents suggested these services are either not being provided or have not been widely promoted.”

“[Survey] respondents cited the consequences of not meeting the needs of veterans, service members and their families. For example, Indiana received 69 calls from returning de-activated soldiers that involved suicide attempts during the first six months of 2009. Six of those returning service members ultimately died. Respondents in other states reported problems of domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, unemployment, and criminal justice system involvement.”

While we remember veterans today, we must not forget the very real mental health concerns they face when they return home. Vets, both young and old, should not be forgotten.