Guest Commentary: Helping veterans struggling with addiction, mental health
Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2023
By Veronica Ruassin
Memorial Day is a time to honor the memory of all the men and women who lost their lives while serving in the U.S. military. It can be a somber time for veterans and their families.
Outside of this day, we must never forget the countless veterans who made it home but are struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Many other veterans have lost their lives to this and suicide. Early intervention and prevention is critical to help veterans find the treatment they need.
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Minnesota has over 300,000 veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Approximately 16% of the veteran population in Minnesota had served since Sept. 11, 2001.
“There are many reasons veterans become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but addiction and mental health issues are treatable,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
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 remain stable in veterans ages 18 to 49.
Many veterans struggle with adjusting to civilian life and battle financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, and accessing benefits. Veterans are also at a higher risk of experiencing mental and emotional health concerns. Untreated trauma has a significant impact on daily life. It can lead to alcohol and drug use as a method of coping.
Veterans also experience significant barriers such as cost, insurance gaps, inadequate funding, and limited treatment access in rural locations. Stigma regarding mental health and substance use is still an issue.
Outside of the usual VA-Facility locator offered by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, there are other options to consider:
• The Department of Veterans Affairs provides extensive resources and support to veterans and their families;
• SAMHSA provides a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific options for substance use and mental health treatment;
• Helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443; and
• Drug and alcohol treatment facilities are increasingly better equipped to treat veterans by offering specific rehabilitation options and treatment for co-occurring disorders.
Families play a significant role in supporting veterans through difficult times. Speak to them openly and honestly about their substance use, and express concern without casting judgment. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are going through.
Substance use and mental health disorders are treatable. It takes communities and families coming together to help veterans who are struggling. Too many battle these issues in silence and never get their needed help.
Early intervention and prevention save lives, and providing quick and easy access to treatment and support is critical for veterans struggling with addiction.
Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.