Thursday, November 10, 2011

Veterans and Mental Health: We Owe Them Better

By Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, honors men and women who have served in our country's armed forces. We owe them our thanks. Unfortunately that doesn't always extend to the health care they receive.

Last year, more than 1.2 million veterans were treated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, about a third for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That is an increase of about 25 percent from four years before, as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports that approximately 18 veterans die from suicide every day. Yet in survey released in September, the VA reported that 70 percent of its doctors, nurses and social workers believe the system lacks the staff and space to provide adequate mental health care. More than 37 percent said they cannot schedule an appointment for a new patient within 14-days.

The study was requested by the Senate Veterans Committee after a hearing in which former Army infantryman Daniel Williams testified for NAMI's behalf, describing how he was told there would be a six-month wait before he could get an appointment with a psychiatrist.. He testified that he attempted suicide with a .45 caliber pistol, "but by the grace of God, the weapon misfired."

In October, a study by the RAND Corporation found "large discrepancies" in the quality of care in different VA facilities across the country. Three received ratings of about 75 percent. Nine were below 25 percent.

NAMI maintains an on-line Veterans Resource Center. We advocate for veterans before Congress. In some VA facilities, we offer Family-to-Family education and support programs for the families of veterans. We continue to promote action and awareness within the military and VA and produce podcasts and other resources to empower active duty, veterans and their families to seek help and support. We are proud of those contributions, but we know that much more is needed.

On Veterans Day, as a nation, we must commit to doing more over the long haul. That will be the true measure of honoring the men and women who deserve our thanks for their willingness to serve.


Jean said...

As Family-to-Family Education Program has the means to change people's lives through educating families about mental illness, we can help families of veterans by offering the same program to them and thus help those who have served our country to have a better quality of life here at home. "We Owe Them Better" than to not give them everything they need to cope with the trauma of war.

Teresa LeYung-Ryan said...

Mr. Fitzpatrick,

Thank you for writing this post to shed light on what we can do to advocate for better care of our veterans and their families. I linked your post to mine dated November 16, 2011 so that my blog fans can get resources for their loved ones. My beautiful mom (not a Veteran but was an orphan during World War II) suffered mental illness all her life and I use my writings to honor her. In September I met NAMI Sonoma County board member Ron Shaw at the Sonoma County Book Festival. Rosemary Milbrath, Executive Director at NAMI Sonoma County, has contacted me and I hope to deliver my Heroes, Tricksters & Villains interactive workshop to the Sonoma County community in California in 2012. Again, thank you for the NAMI blog.
Teresa LeYung-Ryan, author of Love Made of Heart; mental health advocate

Anonymous said...

I'm a veteran that uses VA Behavorial Health Clinic. I can say the care has been excellent with some flaw. pills are goood to control, but you need coping skills to live a life of enjoyment. I feel Va lacks good aftercare (outpatient care needs improvement. Recovery importment for healthy life.

robdebrich said...

I am a spouse of a veteran who suffers from PTSD. Nothing has been written on what to do and what not to do for a care provider living with a mate with PTSD. We took our children with us on a long road trip last summer. The trip cause my mate to have flashbacks and nightmares which resulted in mental confusion and high anxiety. Needless to say this ruined our vacation. When we got home I verbally blamed my mate. Before I realized it, my mate was in a rage. My mate has been in jail for four months and is waiting for a court date. Why hasn't anything been printed for families caring for a veteran with PTSD?