Still Strong: A Message on Veteran’s Mental Health
Numbers matter, especially when it comes to veterans’ health. Consider these statistics:
- The number of suicides among veterans has declined in recent years. And while 20 per day (when averaged over time) is still far too many, veterans are reaching out.
- An average of 270 veterans call the Veteran’s Crisis line (1-800-273-8255, Press 1) each day.
- Since 2007, the Veteran’s Crisis Line has answered more than 2.8 million calls, conducted more than 300,000 chat sessions, and made nearly 376,000 referrals to local Veteran’s Administration suicide prevention coordinators.
These numbers tell a story of strength and recovery, and they can be attributed in part to an important realization about how information is reported.
Within the last few years, research revealed that information and messaging on veteran’s mental health, particularly rates of suicide, was actually hurting veterans. According to a RAND study in 2014 many service members were not regularly seeking needed care when facing mental health challenges despite the efforts of both the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the Veterans Health Administration.
Kim Ruocco, who lost her veteran husband to suicide, wrote about this stigma in 2016. In her blog post she describes learning disturbing information on how DOD/VA messaging could be standing in the way of veterans receiving the help they need. She learned that negative press about some veteran’s behavior changed the way the civilian community viewed all veterans. Worse yet, many civilian employers viewed veterans as injured, ill, and out of control, and kept employers from interviewing and hiring veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs was also learning from these reports and took action. The Veterans component of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline was re-branded as the “Veterans Crisis Line,” which has led to a significantly increased call volume. Military spokespeople began emphasizing that help was available, confidential, and effective rather than focusing on long wait times and other problems. More stories were told that informed the public that most veterans are reliable, hard-working, and skilled—assets to any employer.
The numbers show that these efforts are making an impact. We can help with the momentum. We must look past statistics and see the service men and women and their families who need help working through the invisible wounds of war. We must continue to recognize them for the warriors they have always been.
They served strong and they are still strong. And now it’s time for us to serve them. This Veteran’s Day, you can offer help and hope by promoting just one number: 1-800-273-8255.
For a “one-stop” website for answers to military life questions including information on deployment and transition from the military; family and relationships; education; employment; on and off base living; financial; legal; health and wellness visit: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/
For additional mental health resources, visit EachMindMatters.org/mental-health/veterans
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