Special to Palms West Journal by Veronica Raussin
Memorial Day honors the memory of service members who died, but 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 among veterans are linked to homelessness and suicide. Florida has more than 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 them have had serious thoughts of suicide.
“Substance use disorders are complex and are influenced by many factors. Military life comes with its own set of risk factors and potential causes,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
Common difficulties that veterans face when they leave service include financial hardships and difficulty finding employment or accessing benefits. Many struggle to transition to civilian life.
Veterans are at a higher risk of physical, mental and emotional health issues. Untreated trauma can develop into addiction and mental health problems.
Barriers to accessing treatment can include cost and insurance gaps. Many communities struggle with inadequate funding, and veterans have limited access to treatment in rural locations. The stigma of addiction and mental illness is also a factor.
The options to help veterans include the following:
The Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs provides numerous resources.
The Florida Veteran Support Line, 844-693-5838, is available 24/7.
Other helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 888-777-4443.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a treatment locator highlighting substance use treatment and mental health resources for veterans.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a VA facility locator and resources for homeless veterans.
When facing financial barriers, families may want to consider combining VA benefits with Medicare, Medicaid or private health insurance.
Family and friends can 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 becoming better at treating veterans. Many programs provide services specifically for veterans, treat co-occurring disorders, and are gender specific.
Memorial Day is much more than a chance to kick off the summer. It is a day to honor all the men and women who lost their lives serving in the U.S. military, and it is a chance to look out for the millions of veterans who made it home but are fighting a new battle.
Veronica Raussin is a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org and is passionate about spreading awareness of the dangers of alcohol and drug use.