The saying goes “freedom isn’t free”.
There’s a cost to it.
We’re not talking about the financial burden of the defense and security of the nation – no, the cost is human.
It’s tallied in the flesh and blood, bodies and minds tasked with defending the country, going to battle for it and vigilantly being on guard for it.
It’s counted in the casualties, the breakdowns and the suicides.
The cost of freedom is indeed exceedingly human.
Unfortunately, those paying the price are frequently left behind in a sense and veterans’ mental health issues are woefully under-cared for; those that deserve our support most often get the least.
Chances are damn near 100% that you know someone who’s served, they may be family, friends or neighbors so it’s time to address the issues they face head-on.
What Does It Mean to Be A Veteran?
Per the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), it’s a straightforward definition, “a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable”.
Additionally, they add that “a Reservist or member of the National Guard called to Federal active duty or disabled from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty or while in training status also qualifies as a veteran”.
Plain and simple, that’s what defines a veteran.
As a nation that’s almost perpetually at war, the number of veterans is by no means a small group, data from the VA shows that there are nearly 20 million living veterans today.
Why Are Veterans Prone to Mental Health Issues?
The nature of why veterans are prone to issues with mental health has to do with the nature of combat itself. War isn’t a picnic and neither is the preparation for it. Being enlisted in the armed services is mentally taxing in ways that those who haven’t served would find difficult to relate to.
Moreover, there are issues unrelated to combat which cause problems. The VA notes that 23% of women reported sexual assault in the military and 55% experience sexual harassment (38% of men).
This creates an environment ripe for something like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to metastasize. According to the VA and broken down by era, the rates of PTSD for those serving are:
- Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans – or between 11-20%
- Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans, or 12%
- Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans, or 15%, were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s. It’s estimated that about 30 out of every 100, or 30%, of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.
By comparison, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the lifetime prevalence of PTSD among all adults is 6.8%.
Depression is also a big issue among the veteran community with 14% of veterans being diagnosed with it.
Without proper care, this leads to a homelessness rate that sits at 3.7% and a markedly elevated risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD).
- 2 of 10 vets with PTSD has a SUD
- 1 of 3 vets who seek treatment for SUD also has PTSD
- 1 in 10 of the returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan has a problem with drugs or alcohol
Add that all up and you have a suicide rate that’s disproportionately higher for veterans, roughly 1.5 times that of the civilian population.
A recent study on the topic ended with this, “in summary, veterans demonstrate high rates of SUDs. There is a clear need for the development of novel, more effective, evidence-based interventions to address the health care needs of our veterans and their family members struggling with SUDs”.
How We Can Help Veterans Today
Helping veterans first and foremost requires recognizing their unique issues and circumstances. It means continuing to destigmatize mental health and that it’s ok to seek help and not a sign of weakness.
Most importantly it’s creating and giving access to effective treatment options, addiction experts and mental health specialists.
At Valley Recovery Center at Agua Dulce, our mission is to help men take back control of their lives, regain their sobriety and get back to feeling like themselves again mentally.
If there’s a veteran in your life suffering in silence, reach out to us and let’s discuss what you can do to help.