CONTRIBUTED TO THE OBSERVER
Memorial Day allows every American to honor those who have died while serving in the military. It should also remind us how many veterans have lost their lives to substance use, untreated mental health issues and suicide.
Countless veterans struggle with substance use disorders and mental health issues. In Alabama, there are over 350,000 veterans. Substance use disorders in the veteran population have been linked to homelessness and suicide.
In Alabama, nearly 18% of those who have died from suicide were veterans, according to the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs.
“For veterans, military life comes with its own set of risk factors and potential causes for substance use and mental health issues,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org. “It’s critical they receive the support and help they need.”
Awareness of what leads to these problems can ensure family and friends are equipped to help a loved one who is a veteran access the help and support they need. Risk factors can include the following:
• trauma or stress because of past service, deployment or combat;
• struggling to reintegrate into civilian life;
• mental health issues because of military service, such as PTSD, brain injuries, depression or anxiety;
• injuries and chronic pain because of military service.
Veterans struggling with substance use or mental health problem also need help overcoming the barriers to accessing the treatment they need. These barriers may include cost, stigma, inadequate funding and limited resources in rural locations.
There are ways to help and make a difference in a veteran’s life. The Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs offers a variety of benefits of services.
Alabama Veteran is a community-based peer-to-peer organization helping veterans, service members and their families.
Nationally, the VA Facility locator also identifies all the services provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, such as those helping homeless veterans. Important phone numbers include the Veterans Crisis Line — 1-800-273-8255 — and the Lifeline for Vets — 1-888-777-4443.
While we honor those who have lost their lives in service to their country this Memorial Day, we must always continue to recognize the problems so many veterans face when they return home, and take steps to ensure that help is available.
Veronica Raussin is a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.