Millions of Americans celebrate Memorial Day, honoring the memory of those service members who have been lost. It is also vital to recognize the millions of veterans who made it home and struggle with substance use, mental health disorders, or suicidal ideation.
Substance use disorders in veteran populations are linked to homelessness and suicide. In Florida are over 1.4 million veterans, the third largest veteran population in the nation.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or a mental illness. Roughly 12% of these individuals have had serious thoughts of suicide.
“Substance use disorders are complex and are influenced by many factors. Military life comes with its own risk factors and potential causes,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
There are common difficulties that veterans face when they leave service. That can include financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits. There are significant challenges when transitioning back to civilian life.
Veterans are also at a higher risk of experiencing physical, mental, and emotional health concerns. Untreated trauma can quickly develop into addiction and mental health problems. That also directly impacts all areas of life.
Additionally, there are barriers to accessing some forms of treatment. That can include cost and insurance gaps. Many communities struggle with inadequate funding. Veterans also experience limited access to treatment in rural locations. Stigma regarding addiction and mental illness is also a factor.
Fortunately, there are options and ways that families can help; consider some of the following:
• The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs provides numerous resources to assist veterans and their families.
• The Florida Veteran Support Line, (844) 693-5838, is available 24/7 daily.
• Other helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, (800) 273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, (888) 777-4443.
• SAMHSA provides a treatment locator highlighting substance use treatment and mental health resources for veterans.
• The Department of Veterans Affairs has a VA-Facility locator and resources for homeless veterans.
When overcoming financial barriers, families may want to consider combining VA benefits with other forms of health insurance, such as Medicare, Medicaid, or private health insurance, to reduce costs.
Family and friends can also make a huge difference by supporting their loved ones. Speak to them openly and honestly about their substance use and express concern. Help them find treatment. Be patient and compassionate about what they are going through. Always remember these are treatable problems.
Drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Florida are also becoming increasingly better at treating veterans. Many programs provide services specifically for veterans, treat co-occurring disorders, and are gender specific, such as men-only or women-only.
Memorial Day is much more than a chance to kick off the summer months. It is a day to solemnly honor all the men and women who lost their lives serving in the U.S. military. We must also never forget or overlook the millions of veterans who made it home but are fighting a new battle.
Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.