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Supporting the Behavioral Health Needs of Our Nation’s Veterans

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Date: November 08, 2022

On Veterans Day, we set aside time to honor the contributions of those who have served. Throughout our nation’s history, millions of Americans have answered the call to uniformed service, and they often continue to lead in their communities once they are out of uniform. Every year, approximately 200,000 men and women transition out of active-duty service and return to civilian life.

This adjustment requires Veterans and their families to reorient their lives across multiple domains including employment, finances, housing, social supports, and health. Life’s transitions are inherently stressful for all of us. They produce changes in relationships and support networks, and they challenge our identities and self-perceptions. Transitions for Veterans can be especially burdensome due to shifting from the unique collective culture of military service to shaping a more individualized role in how they live, work, and interact with others. Studies indicate that 44 percent to 72 percent experience high levels of stress during transition from military to civilian life.

Data also suggests that approximately half of those who recently separated from military service may not immediately connect with available resources, benefits, and services. Without support, more complex behavioral health concerns might emerge. In 2020, approximately 5.2 million Veterans experienced a behavioral health condition. More telling are the numbers of Veterans who were not engaged in treatment; more than half of Veterans with a mental illness did not receive treatment within the past year. Additionally, more than 90 percent of those experiencing a substance use disorder did not receive treatment. This data highlights that our friends, family, and community members may be suffering in silence and that barriers to care exist, including stigma.

Behavioral health is essential to overall health, and we all have a role in ensuring that service members, Veterans and their families are prepared for their next steps in life as they transition.

Increase your military cultural competence

Explore resources available through SAMHSA’s Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance Center.

Watch PsychArmor’s course entitled 15 Things Veterans Want You to Know. Healthcare professionals may explore additional military culture resources through the Center for Deployment Psychology.

Review the resources on Military and Veteran Families developed by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Become familiar with behavioral health warning signs

Everyone adapts to stressful situations differently. If you or a loved one are experiencing the signs below, there may be a need for increased behavioral health support services.

  • Appearing sad or depressed most of the time.
  • Feeling as if there is no reason to live.
  • Feeling unexplained guilt, shame, or sense of failure.
  • Experiencing rage or anger.
  • Engaging in risky activities without considering the risks.
  • Increasingly smoking, drinking, or using drugs, including prescription medications.
  • Losing interest in previously enjoyable activities and hobbies.
  • Neglecting personal welfare, work, or school.
  • Pulling away from family and friends.

Know how to connect to services

Dial 988 then Press 1. Through SAMHSA’s partnership with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the nation’s first three-digit mental health crisis number can readily connect Veterans, service members, and those who support them to VA’s Veterans Crisis Line.

Find treatment through SAMHSA’s treatment locators and helplines. SAMHSA has developed a video tutorial (1 minute, 58 seconds) to help individuals use the treatment locator to find facilities for Veterans.

Connect to inTransition. This program offers free, confidential coaching and support for service members and Veterans transitioning between mental health-care systems.

In summary, Veterans, service members, and their families have answered the call to serve and have earned our appreciation. Throughout their service, they often navigate deployments, trauma-related stressors, multiple geographic moves, and other factors that can make it difficult to prioritize mental wellbeing. It’s important they know that they are not alone as they face the unique journey of transitioning from the pride of uniformed service to continued meaningful contributions in civilian life.


References

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

United States Department of Labor. (2022). Transition Assistance Program.

Meaghan C. Mobbs, George A. Bonanno. Beyond war and PTSD: The crucial role of transition stress in the lives of military veterans, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 59, 2018, Pages 137-144