Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How a Veteran Can Get the Help They Need

Veterans Day is a day to thank and honor both dead and alive United States Veterans, unlike Memorial Day where Americans honor only those soldiers who died as a result of injuries incurred during battle. Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day and was considered a legal holiday on November 11, 1918. It was a day to honor the end of World War I and in 1938 legislation was passed dedicating the date 11-11 as the cause of world peace. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming that 11-11 would no longer be called Armistice Day. From that day forward, it would be known as Veterans Day.

Fifty-seven years later, on 11-11-11 Americans will gather across the country to honor Veterans of Wars. At exactly 11:00 am, a color guard from each branch of the military will honor the war dead with a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns (Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) in Arlington National Cemetery.

Factors that Complicate What Veterans Experience

You may have received hostile fire, blasts, personal injury, feared your own personal safety, witnessed combat casualties, and lived day-to-day in severe conditions, or experienced military sexual harassment and trauma. You may be currently facing losses such as homelessness and unemployment.

Military factors that may complicate your experience include training accidents and combat injuries resulting in death, lengthy process of recovering and transporting your friend's body home before burial, limitation in viewing the remains due to the injuries, the young age of the soldier as nearly one-third of U.S. troops killed in Iraq were between the ages of 18 and 21. Now that you have returned home, you may have to deal with unwanted media attention, civilian reactions to military death and vindictive political protesters at the funeral.

As a Veteran, you are faced with several issues including a long wait for doctor's appointments, driving several hours to see a mental health specialist, your spouse wanting to separate or divorce, loss of employment or lack of adequate employment, and negative stereotypes of military/veterans in the movies. Many Veterans feel out of control when eating. They have haunting images due to military trauma and need alcohol and/or drugs to get through their day. You may feel worried, anxious, irritable, frustrated and preoccupied with rage.

Some Veterans take prescription medication without medical supervision and think about killing themselves. Too many Veterans experience hopeless, rage, and withdraw from friends, family, and their community and have no sense of purpose in life. The VA's suicide hotline receives approximately 10,000 calls per month. There are 950 suicide attempts per month by veterans receiving care from the VA and eighteen Veterans die by suicide each day. Five of them are under the care of the VA.

What Veterans Go Through

Veterans are dealing with Prolonged Grief Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. They may experience unwanted memories, volatile behavior, poor sleep, suspicion, withdrawal, and have higher rates of drug and alcohol disorders. Physical reactions include chronic pain; digestive disturbances, Gulf War Illness, and respiratory disease. Physical disabilities include amputation and spinal cord injuries. Emotional reactions include feeling empty, furious, guilty, overwhelmed, and sadness. Cognitive reactions are forgetfulness, blame, confusion, flashbacks and self-doubt. Behavioral reactions are feeling detached from surroundings, intolerant, mistrust, refusing to talk and sleep disturbances. Spiritual reactions are abandoned faith, apathetic about the future, feeling forsaken, hopeless and loss of purpose.

Why Veterans Don't Get Help

Although what you're going through may be similar to what others are going through, many Veterans refuse to seek out help as they fear it will only make matters worse. They feel stigma regarding how they will be perceived and feel shame that prevents them from seeking help. Some Veterans don't have the time to get help due to responsibilities or don't have the energy due to overwhelming grief, depression, and stress. Veterans may distrust professional helpers based on past contact or culture or have family members who do not approve of seeking support outside of the family.

Good News for Veterans

It's no secret that Veterans have bottled up their feelings. I recently presented a program for Veterans and asked them about those feelings. They noted three top issues: 1. Trust; 2. Insecurity; and 3. Fear. I asked them if they could prepare soldiers returning home for the challenges they can expect, what would they tell them. Twenty of the top responses were:

  1. You can make it!
  2. Take a vacation.
  3. Your family needs you.
  4. Get computer literate.
  5. Get all of your medical records.
  6. Know that you have benefits.
  7. You will receive a lot of praise.
  8. Get counseling and seek therapy.
  9. Ask for help with financial planning.
  10. Be a part of your faith community.
  11. Always be ready for the unknown.
  12. Some problems do not arise right away.
  13. Learn what you can about the GI Bill.
  14. Everything is going to appear uncertain.
  15. It will be hard to find a routine, but get one.
  16. Drinking is not going to solve your problems.
  17. Find something to live for and don't kill yourself.
  18. Know what is most difficult to deal with and talk about it.
  19. You are not going to experience any problems that other Veterans haven't.
  20. Get in a group at your VA as being with other Veterans will keep you going.

There is a VA credo that I particularly like, "It takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help." The first strategy for improving your heath is to know your mental health providers. Psychiatrists can offer individual therapy or psychologists who can offer group, marital, and family counseling. Reach out to social workers to help you with your medical and benefit referrals and employment counseling. Counselors can assist you with bereavement counseling. Your Primary Mental Health Provider is your main contact and will coordinate your mental health treatment plan. Speak to your VA Medical Center physician who cares not only about your physical health but also your mental health.

Veterans can gain strength from both affirmation and acronyms. I have listed both and hope they help!

A Veterans Affirmation

The following affirmation can help you find meaning in your experience and build resiliency in your life: "I am a Veteran. I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to do. I have control over the things that happen to me. I will keep a positive attitude. I am able to maintain my boundaries. I am confident about my role in life. I can change some of the issues I am facing. I am optimistic. What occurs in my future is generally up to me. I feel connected with others. I am a Veteran."

An Acronym for VETERANS

An acronym is when you take the letters of a word and create a meaningful phrase with each of those letters. The key point about the acronym, VETERANS, is that it will describe ways to remain resilient:

Value what you have learned about the strength within yourself.

Echo a word, phrase, and credo that brings you comfort.

True significance of sharing your story is found when you find meaning in it.

Educate yourself about self-compassion and stress management.

Re-evaluate who you are and what you have learned from serving your country.

Adapt and find positive growth from being in the military.

New normal acceptance begins with getting out of your own way.

Spiritually remain connected to those that have died while serving their country.

Additional Help for Veterans

There are many organizations that can provide help for Veterans such as The American Legion, American Veterans, Black Veterans for Social Justice, Coming Home Project (for vets and families), Dept. of Health and Human Services Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK, Veterans press 1., Dept. of VA Homeless Veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs (caregivers support), Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), Coping with Military Sexual Trauma, National Association for Uniformed Services, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, National Military Family Association, National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Salute, Inc. (financial support and assistance), Service Women's Action Network, U.S. Vets Inc. (homeless vets), VeteranCaregiver.Com: Virtual Community for those who care,Veterans across America (access to business and employment), Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans Upward Bound (college preparation programs).

Personally, I want to wish every Veteran a happy Veterans Day!

Support our Troops AND Support Our Veterans

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