Thank veterans by supporting mental health care

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by the Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times retains editorial control over the work produced by this team.

Each veteran has internalized a set of values ​​that have allowed them to endure hardship, overcome obstacles, and find resilience in their service. But those same values ​​can also make it difficult for them to seek help when they have mental health issues.

The teamwork they forge builds close bonds that can discourage seeking outside help; Their selflessness allows them to put their mission and companions first but may prevent them from prioritizing their own health; A commitment to excellence drives their motivation but also creates a continuous drive towards perfection.

As the partner of an active duty member and a licensed therapist who works with veterans, I have seen firsthand the challenges current and former military personnel face in finding appropriate care.

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We often thank veterans for their service, but I challenge all of us to show thanks by listening to the mental health needs of the military and veteran community, learning about the impact of military life, and supporting organizations on the ground that do the work.

About 11% to 20% of veterans who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan report suffering from PTSD, According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs. and about half of the veterans who have served since 9/11 mentioned In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was somewhat difficult or very difficult for them to readjust to civilian life after their military service.

I also learned how few people seem to understand the impact military life has on the families of service members. I was suffering from postpartum depression while my partner was working abroad but was told, “You signed up for this.” Feeling separated from civilians is a common struggle.

Veterans still suffer from trauma and depression, but access to care for themselves and their families has become even more difficult. During the pandemic, referrals to my clinic have more than doubled. However, many physicians do not have a complete understanding of military culture and often have misconceptions about this society, which creates a barrier to providing proper treatment to military personnel.

Licenses to work in the field of mental health care often require some form of cultural competency training, typically focused on race, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, and spirituality. But rarely has training included the military as a whole culture or discussed the intersecting identities held by the military community. When providers are not properly trained to understand the military community, their ability to provide effective, culturally competent care can be strained.

A lack of cultural competence in the community can make veterans feel isolated from their caregivers. Myths, such as the misconception that all service members and veterans have or develop PTSD and that having PTSD means someone will be violent, can contribute to stigma that prevents many from seeking help.

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Many veterans hesitate to seek mental health treatment because of: prevailing military culture that adopt Soul warrior, a set of obligations for mental strength in service. these beliefs It makes it difficult for veterans and service members to admit that they experience depression and anxiety.

It is often assumed that the health care needs of the US military community are met within government systems such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, many veterans who choose to access services in the community outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs find that they do not qualify for care because of the dishonorable discharge. In past decades, veterans have been dismissed from service due to mental health conditions and sexual orientation, and their secretions are described as shame.

The options for seeking care can be more restrictive for family members, who are often not the focus of the veteran resource. Few healthcare providers accept TRICARE, the health insurance program of the US Department of Defenseor have a good understanding of military culture, and wait times can be excessive.

Asking for help can be difficult under optimal circumstances. Imagine being told you have to wait months for care.

Although options such as telehealth have helped break down barriers to seeking mental health care, more work needs to be done. Together, we can build a better system for active military personnel, veterans, and their families, that includes timely access to behavioral health care and empowered providers aware of the unique challenges as well as the strengths of this community.

Dr. Nicole Ayres is Clinic Director at the Stephen A. Cohen Military Family Clinic of the Valley Cities in Lakewood, part of the Cohen Veterans Network. The Cohen Clinic of Valley Cities provides confidential, high-quality treatment and local referral support services to post-9/11 veterans and service members, including the National Guard and Reserves, and their family members. Care is available regardless of discharge status, role while in uniform, or combat experience. As a military spouse of over 13 years, Iris is an active member of the JBLM community supporting military families through the challenges of deployment and redeployment.

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