An estimated 730,000 military personnel deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from a mental health condition, according to the National Council. Many have brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and may also abuse alcohol and drugs. For an estimated 22 veterans a day, suicide is the solution sought.
Veterans who have been more successful in adjusting to post-military life don’t have to stand on the sidelines feeling helpless to assist others. There are a variety of ways they can lend a hand to reduce these numbers while assisting their brothers and sisters in arms after deployment.
Ways to Help
From assisting with something as routine as paperwork to pursuing careers in mental health, veterans who get involved often find those they work with appreciate the assistance coming directly from someone who can understand the path they have walked. Here are just a few examples of the ways veterans are lending a hand to others:
- Navigating the red tape – Life after deployment doesn’t mean an end to military and government red tape. With that in mind, some veterans are assisting by teaching others about the post-military benefits available and helping them navigate the paperwork involved in obtaining it. Glendale’s Kevin Hamilton, for example, teaches veterans about the Veterans Aid and Assistance Program that can provide up to $2,000 extra per month to fund healthcare costs outside the long waits that may be associated with Veterans Administration assistance.
- Entering counseling professions – With an alarming number of veterans suffering from mental health conditions, the need for trained counselors is on the rise. This is especially so for counselors who have also served in the military. Elements Behavioral Health says the majority of veterans who do seek treatment discontinue appointments after one visit because the counselors are not familiar with military life and don’t understand the experiences veterans have endured. Jobs in this field are on the rise to meet the demand. The U.S. Army Substance Abuse Program alone advertised 130 openings for mental health experts in a single month.
- The Mission Continues –This organization pairs transitioning veterans with nonprofit organizations in their communities. This empowers veterans to serve their country in new ways as they transition back into civilian life.
- The Soldiers Project – This nonprofit organization provides free mental health treatment to veterans and their family members. Veterans can get involved by making donations or volunteering their time to help with therapy and by advocating. Services are available throughout the country.
- Make the Connection – This is a public awareness campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It provides veterans with access to resources and testimonials that can help them find ways to improve their lives. Veterans have become actively involved in the project by sharing their own stories.
- Mental Health First Aid – This is an 8-hour class that teaches others how to assist a person with a developing mental health problem or who is currently experiencing a crisis. Veterans can help by taking the class or volunteering to become an instructor. The program is open to everyone, not just veterans.
- The Returning Veterans Project – This nonprofit organization provides free counseling and other services to returning veterans and their families. It relies heavily on volunteer providers and donors to provide support across the country.
As the need for mental health services for returning veterans continues to rise, former soldiers do have opportunities to lend a hand. From simple acts of kindness in helping with paperwork to major career changes that lead to jobs in the mental health profession, soldiers can help other soldiers while working to reduce suicide rates and improve lives for those returning from the battlefront.