By Veronica Raussin / For The Herald
Too many veterans lose their lives to drug and alcohol addiction, whether because of health problems, suicide or overdose. Veterans often battle these problems in silence and do not necessarily seek help.
On Memorial Day, while we take the time to honor the memory of the men and women who lost their lives fighting in the nation’s wars; we must never lose sight of those veterans who made it home but still need our help.
In Washington, there are more than 550,000 veterans, most of whom are wartime vets. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 3.9 million veterans in the United States have a substance use disorder or mental illness.
Additionally, substance use disorders significantly increased suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among veterans ages 18 to 49. Many of these issues go overlooked, and veterans are struggling in silence.
“Early intervention saves lives, but many families struggle to know where to begin or how to intervene,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org, an organization that connects individuals and families with drug rehabilitation services.
Many causative factors lead to drug and alcohol use within the veteran community. Many veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment or getting access to benefits.
Other veterans struggle with mental and emotional health problems. It could also be compounded with physical injuries and chronic pain. Untreated problems also impact every aspect of a veteran’s life. This can all lead to using drugs or alcohol to cope with the physical or emotional pain.
Veterans also face barriers when seeking and getting treatment and support. This can include the costs involved, health insurance gaps, or stigma regarding addiction. There are often problems with inadequate funding and limited access to treatment for vets in rural areas.
Outside of the usual services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, other support options include:
• The Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs provides information on benefits, services, and programs;
• Helpful hotlines include the Veteran Crisis Line, 800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;
• SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services) has a treatment facility locator with options to search for specific treatment options for veterans.
Family support is also critical. It’s OK to have these difficult conversations. Speak to your loved one openly and honestly about their drug or alcohol use. Intervene and help them find treatment. Be patient and show compassion for what they are going through. Reassure them that everything is treatable.
When communities and families come together to help veterans, amazing things happen. It’s never too late to offer a helping hand.
Veronica Raussin is a community outreach coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.