This Memorial Day, millions of American families will take time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in one of the nation’s wars.
Yet, we must also not forget, outside of this day, the countless veterans that made it home but lost their lives to drug overdose, suicide, or addiction and the millions more struggling with addiction.
It’s challenging for families to watch a loved one become consumed by addiction. It can also be difficult to know where to find help or how to help; fortunately, support options are available.
In Pennsylvania, there are over 760,000 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.
Unfortunately, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors also are common among veterans ages 18 to 49.
“Early intervention is key, but it is also critical for families to know where to look for help and how to access support for veterans,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Numerous causative factors lead to drug and alcohol abuse among veterans. For instance, veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life, experience financial hardships, or have difficulty accessing benefits. Veterans also battle emotional and mental health concerns.
Untreated trauma, for example, leads to drug and alcohol abuse to cope with unwanted feelings. This can also be compounded with physical injury and chronic pain leading to pain medication use.
Additionally, there can be barriers when accessing treatment, such as cost and gaps in health insurance. Stigma regarding addiction and mental health is still prominent. Many veterans living in rural areas have limited access to treatment, and communities have inadequate funding.
Outside of the standard resources provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other support options in Pennsylvania include:
- Resources for Veterans and Service Members are provided through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania website;
- The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs provides extensive resources;
- The Pennsylvania Veterans Foundation is a non-profit charitable organization helping veterans and their families;
- Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;
- SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator to help veterans find specific substance use treatment help in Pennsylvania.
Families also play a significant role in supporting their loved ones struggling with addiction. It’s ok to express concern about their substance use. Speak to them openly and honestly about the problem. Help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are experiencing. Remember, these are treatable problems.
It takes families and communities coming together to help our veterans. Too many fall through the cracks and struggle with addiction and mental health disorders in silence. It’s never too late to offer a helping hand.
Veronica Raussin, Clearwater, Florida
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