Substance use and mental health disorders are significant problems among veteran populations. This Memorial Day, millions of Americans will take time to honor the memory of those servicemen and women who lost their lives.
We should also never forget those men and women who made it home and are now fighting a new battle. Too many veterans lose their lives to addiction, untreated mental health disorders and suicide. In Idaho, there are more than 120,000 veterans, and Idaho County is home to more than 1,700 veterans.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health has shown 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Substance use disorder significantly increased suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older.
“Substance use disorders in the veteran population directly correlate with homelessness and suicide; this is a harsh reality many families have experienced,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
There are different reasons why veterans become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many veterans struggle with adjusting to civilian life and experience financial hardships, difficulty accessing benefits and struggle with mental and emotional health concerns. Untreated trauma by itself affects every aspect of life and leads to addiction.
Fortunately, there are supports and things families can do to help their loved ones; consider the following:
• The Idaho Division of Veterans Services is a full-service bureau that helps veterans and their families.
• The 2-1-1 Idaho CareLine connects veterans with resources.
• Helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443.
• SAMHSA has a facility treatment locator listing substance use treatment specifically for veterans.
• The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a VA-Facility locator and resources for homeless veterans.
Families looking for financial solutions can consider combining VA benefits with other forms of health insurance, such as Medicaid, Medicare, or private health insurance.
Families also make a huge difference by providing support for their loved ones. Speak to them often and honestly about their substance use, express concern without judgment. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing. Remember, these problems are treatable.
Communities can also take steps to advocate for more support. Reducing the number of opioid and benzodiazepine prescriptions given to veterans, for example, and searching for alternative forms of therapy makes a big difference.
Memorial Day is so much more than a kickoff to the summer; it’s a time to honor the men and women we have lost. We must also continue fighting for all the veterans with us who need help. It takes families and communities to come together to make a difference.
Veronica Raussin is a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.
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