Contributed by Major Mike Dryden, USAR Retired
The holiday season is a joyous and festive time of the year for most folks. But some in our community won’t feel celebratory due to depression. Be it because of long-term illness, the loss of a spouse or worse a child, the loneliness of the holidays could be the tipping point for someone considering ending their life.
September was National Suicide Prevention month, but the holiday season is a particularly vulnerable time for our relatives and neighbors who are going through a bout of depression.
It’s an alarming and disturbing fact, but older veterans have a higher suicide rate than the public, including returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In fact, veterans over 50 years of age have a 70 percent higher suicide rate than the non-veteran general population.
According to Tom Berger, executive director of the Vietnam Veterans of America National Health Council and a Vietnam Navy veteran, “You know, ‘We’re just old guys, and we’re going to die, so why pay much attention to them (us)?’ That’s the feeling that some of our members have.”
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., the first Iraq War combat veteran to serve in the Senate, introduced one of the omnibus bills that contained an extension from five to fifteen years in which a veteran could qualify for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) benefits from the VA.
But only veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would be eligible for the 15-year extension deadline. Although the shooting at Fort Hood reignited the national debate over the surge of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ suicides, older veterans have been largely overlooked in the conversation. A call to our congressional delegation is needed to extend this proposal to all veterans.
Thank goodness, the VA is recognizing PTSD as an illness that is just as real as a visible injury to one’s body, and that PTSD’s onset may be delayed for decades. Sometimes the body heals much faster than the mind. This disorder is often overlooked by the family and friends of a WWll, Korean or Vietnam War-era veteran because the illness is often masked by anti-social behavior, alcohol and illegal or prescription drug abuse. These symptoms are often recognized and treated while the underlying cause is not.
The good news is many resources are at your disposal if you just ask.
The VA’s updated suicide information last year showed a decrease in the suicide rate for middle-aged male veterans who use VA healthcare, compared with an increase for the same age group of veterans who don’t. This finding is not a small detail.
Robert Bossarte, who co-authored the VA study, said that despite initial worries that older veterans wouldn’t use the Veterans Crisis Line, the opposite has proven true. Most of the calls came from the over-50 age group of veterans.
A booklet, “The Guide to VA Mental Health Services for Veterans and Families,” is available from the VA. Some of the services outlined in this guide are the improved focus on recovery, a coordinated mental health treatment program, a coordinator for the mental health treatment in primary care, around-the-clock services (see below) and family and couple services. This guide and other veterans’ services are available for download and pdf printing at the www.va.gov website, and toll-free telephone numbers for other services are in the phonebook under “Veteran Administration”.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline, online chat or text. To speak with a responder by phone, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. To chat online, go to www.veteranscrisisline.net. To text with a responder, send a text message to 838255. These confidential support options are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.
Veterans who are homeless can get help finding mental healthcare at a drop-in veterans center, or by contacting the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838 or by visiting the VA’s Homeless Veterans website at www.va.gov/homeless.
VA Community Living Centers (CLCs) for veterans are available in some areas for veterans needing temporary assisted care until they can return home or find placement in a nursing home.
For more information, visit or call:
• VA Benefits Information: 1-800-827-1000
• VA Medical Information: 1-800-353-7574
Many valuable mental health services are available to all veterans, but the veteran, their family or a very good friend must initiate the process.
And on a personal note, I would like to thank all the medical staff at JBER’s ER and MSU for the wonderful care I’ve received this year.
Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous new year.
Here’s to your good mental health. Until next month, Mike is RTB, out.