By Veronica Raussin
Countless veterans have lost battles with substance use and mental health disorders, whether by overdose or suicide. It is a problem that impacts veteran communities nationwide.
This Memorial Day, millions of American families will take the time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars. Outside of this day, we must never lose sight of the millions of veterans struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
In Ohio are over 720,000 veterans, most of whom are wartime vets. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or mental illness. Substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among vets ages 18 to 49.
“Much of this can be prevented with early intervention, community support, and increased access to treatment. Yet, many families struggle to know which direction to go,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
There is no simple answer to the question of why veterans struggle with addiction, yet numerous causative factors exist. Veterans returning home often struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.
Many other veterans struggle with emotional and mental health problems. This can often be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain leading to the use of opioids.
The veteran community also faces barriers when accessing treatment, such as cost or gaps in health insurance plans. Stigma regarding addiction and mental illness is still prominent. Veterans in rural areas have limited access to resources. Communities struggle with inadequate funding.
However, outside of the usual help provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other resources include:
• The Ohio Department of Veterans Services offers benefits, resources, and other support;
• OhioCares provides links to numerous resources for veterans and their families;
• Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 888-777-4443;
• SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific resources in Ohio.
Families also play an essential role in supporting their loved ones. It’s ok to express concern about their drug and alcohol use. Speak to them openly and honestly about their addiction or drug use. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing.
Drug rehab centers in Ohio have also become better equipped to help veterans, especially those with co-occurring disorders.
Families and communities should come together, advocate for help, and work together to help veterans in need. It’s never too late to offer a helping hand.
Veronica Raussin is a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.