This Memorial Day, millions of Americans will honor the memory of the men and women who died in U.S. military service. It commemorates all those individuals who sacrificed their lives.
Outside of this day, we must never lose sight of the millions of servicemen and servicewomen who made it home to their families but are fighting a new battle. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that over 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Moreover, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors occur frequently among veterans ages 19 to 49.
In Massachusetts, there are over 300,000 veterans, over half of them aged 65 and over.
There are many reasons why veterans struggle with addiction and mental health issues. “There is a correlation between veterans and substance use disorders, homelessness, and suicide. Yet, this is preventable with early intervention and treatment,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life, face financial hardships, and have difficulty finding employment or accessing benefits. Mental and emotional health concerns can lead to significant problems, such as unwanted thoughts or feelings.
Untreated trauma is common among veterans, which can lead to substance use as a means of coping. Veterans also face barriers when accessing help, such as cost and insurance gaps. Communities experience inadequate funding and limited access in rural locations. Stigma regarding addiction and mental illness is also problematic.
Fortunately, there are options to consider. Outside of the VA-Facility locator through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, other resources include:
- Military and veterans services are offered through city websites and the state website Mass.gov;
- SAMHSA provides a treatment facility locator where veterans can find services specific to their needs;
- Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443.
When covering costs, families may consider combining VA benefits with other forms of insurance, such as private health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, to reduce costs.
Families play a significant role in supporting veterans. Speak to them often, openly and honestly about their substance use. Express concern, but do not pass judgment. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are going through. Remember, addiction and mental health issues are treatable.
Drug and alcohol treatment centers often offer specialized treatment programs for veterans and treat co-occurring disorders. Treatment centers have become increasingly better equipped to help veterans.
It takes families and communities coming together to help our veteran population. Too many men and women who served this country are struggling in silence. While on this Memorial Day, we honor those who lost their lives, we must continue to fight for those who are alive with us today.
Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.