It’s not just the veterans themselves who face mental health issues — such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or crippling anxiety — but their families too. Families who have to cope not only with the great distances and not knowing if their soldier-husband or soldier-wife will ever return, but also with the possibly of having that person return broken. Lost. Something less-than.
And while the Veterans Administration has made great strides in providing better care for veterans in the past few years, it still has a long ways to go.
Today, we are still 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.
Back in 2009, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare conducted a survey of veterans and found that problems remain:
- 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.
While this has improved somewhat in recent years, wait times still vary dramatically from VA center to VA center. The VA continues to push its expansion of mental health care and coverage for vets, hiring new mental health professionals at a healthy rate. But it’ll still be another year or two before all of these professionals become available to most vets.
- 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.
This remains a problem today, since few new VA outreach centers have opened since 2009.
- 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.”
This remains an ongoing problem. A mental illness diagnosis in the military is a sure-fire way to ensure your promotion path is severely restricted.
- Lack of Family Involvement: While VA treatment options include 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.
This remains a problem — sometimes families just don’t know what to do. How to react. How to best support their loved one returning home with PTSD. And what to do about their own mental health needs, such as depression or anxiety.
We can do better for our vets. And we should do better in supporting all of their needs when they return from combat.
Today, let us all pay tribute to the men and women who’ve put their very lives on the line for our country and our freedom. They deserve our thanks — and better mental health treatment in the future.