For centuries and decades, the men and women of our country have fought in wars to protect our freedom. When they come back from those wars, these veterans are left with the task of rebuilding their lives. Today, there are approximately 30 million Americans who are military veterans, and they often seek mental health treatment. Yet mental health treatment access has always been an issue, and for many veterans, the exposure of the war for prolonged periods of time have resulted in the diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression or TBI (traumatic brain injury). The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD affects the following: 31 percent of Vietnam veterans, as many as 10 percent of Gulf War (Desert Storm) veterans, 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan, and 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq. (MedlinePlus, 2009). Symptoms of PSTD can be accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or by other anxiety disorders; this makes re-establishing themselves as civilians more difficult, and sometimes almost impossible without medical assistance.
As veterans’ re-enter civilian life, they are twice as likely to become homeless. It is vital for veterans that they re-establish family connections, housing, and employment. In our society, income is directly related to health status. Without a steady income, veterans face mental health challenges, family instability, substance abuse and elevated rates of homelessness. Unfortunately, more than half million veterans in the United States are homeless at some time, and on any given night more than 300,000 are living on the streets or in shelters. (Removing Barriers, 2014). Veterans who sustained injuries during combat including mental illness have a right to disability benefits that are designed to fill the gaps in loss of earning potential and quality of life. However, the process of receiving benefits is a long and difficult one. Yet without these disability benefits, veterans feel tempted to borrow money, go into debt, or rely on friends and family to provide financial support. Income replacement for new disabled veterans is an important step in their transition to normal life.
There are many services available to veterans who wish to receive help. However, there are still some gaps in the healthcare system, most of them dating back all the way to the early 20th century. First, there is a structural, organizational, or and cultural gap. Some veterans may live too far from the VA (Veterans Affairs) providers, they do not meet eligibility criteria, or they may not know if they qualify for VA benefits. Some service members fear that might be consequences if they receive mental health services. The VA is also faced with challenges of providing mental heath care services for current returning service members as their wait time to receive help is longer as the VA continues to provide help to older veterans. These gaps translate into a substantial unmet need for care. One study found that only 53 percent of returning troops who met criteria for PTSD or major depression sought help from a provider for these conditions in the past year. The gap is even larger for those reporting a probable TBI: 57 percent had not been evaluated by a physician for a brain injury. (Tanielian, 2008)
The second gap is the quality of care for which veterans receive. The VA has a history of struggling to provide to quality medical care and is currently faced with the challenges of providing timely health care to veterans. It has been reported that 53.3 percent of veterans managed to access treatment for these mental health conditions. 69 percent of veterans, used the VA is their primary source for mental health care, but mental health services within the health system are not always easily available or suited for patient needs. (Heath, 2018)
Millions of men and women selflessly risk their lives for the citizens of the United States. Those risks can leave wounds that are visible and others that are not easily seen. There is an wonderful program that helps veterans to overcome debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues which is known as the Headstrong Project. It was created in 2012 by a Marine Corp veteran Zach Iscol who discovered his fellow veterans were struggling with lack of access to mental health services and difficulty dealing with stress. In order to provide veterans with knowledgeable and competent mental health professionals, the Headstrong Project partnered with the Weill Cornell Medical Center which has allowed them to develop a cost free comprehensive treatment programs specifically tailored to fit the individual experiencing symptoms of PTSD, a wide range of other mental health issues as well as grief and loss counseling and anger management. Headstrong already has effective barriers in place and have also come up with methods to help eliminate those barriers with experience clinical professionals who can create personalized treatment plans for each veteran.