Common mental health struggles that military veterans endure include PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, substance abuse disorders, and suicidality. This is not a comprehensive list, as there are certainly other mental health struggles that veterans experience. It’s clear that veterans need consistent, reliable access to quality therapy and help, yet there are still some obstacles that stand between U.S. military veterans and acquiring therapy.
There is of course the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which offers military veterans resources for therapy, community, counseling, and more. At the bottom of their official page, VA even offers information on other external resources. For example, VA provides a link to an external mental health resource called Military OneSource, which is a free service. VA includes links to other resources, such as The National Alliance on Mental Illness and The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to name a couple.
The existence and accessibility of the above resources and organizations is great and necessary. However, obstacles nevertheless stand between military veterans and getting the help they need. One such obstacle, and a very powerful one at that, is the many stigmas still surrounding mental health struggles. These stigmas are especially harmful for military veterans because “service members are often seen as strong and self-reliant, and they may hide their emotional challenges to avoid being seen as weak. This hesitation can also come from concern about the potential to be labeled by harmful stereotypes.”
Some other barriers veterans face in addition to inhibiting stigmas include a lack of physical accessibility to help centers and organizations. “Many veterans in need of mental health care report that they would need to travel more than an hour to reach the needed services.” Such a commute is also often too costly, or even impossible if there aren’t viable transportation options available. While Military OneSource is a viable online resource, it seems there needs to be an increase in virtual resources to help veterans who can’t easily access in-person services.
Another prominent barrier is “awareness of eligibility for services” and “understanding how VA is organized.” An example of a common point of confusion is the difference between the Veterans Benefits Administration and the Veterans Health Administration. The difference is explained here, as well as other points of confusion. The National Library of Medicine also explains ways that information about available services is being updated and improved upon to become more understandable and accessible. However, there is more work that needs to be done to make sure that military veterans can easily access clear information on what resources are available to them.
So, what other external resources are there to consider and what can be done to help break down the barriers between U.S. military veterans and getting the help they need? Regarding external resources, as aforementioned, VA offers links to some external resources that veterans can access. There are also additional external resources to try, one of them being SKY Breath Meditation. SKY stands for Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, a daily meditative exercise focused on deep breathing. The Art of Living is doing a lot of work right now regarding SKY Breath Meditation and what this practice can do for military veterans with mental health struggles. This practice has been able to help veterans worldwide, not just in the U.S. I have personally tried SKY Breath Meditation, and I highly recommend everyone giving it a try. On their site, The Art of Living offers a free online intro session where people can try SKY Breath Meditation and see what it can offer them.
As Oceans Healthcare highlights, we can all also help break down harmful stigmas around mental health struggles and mental health care that affect not just veterans, but other people as well. “To help fight this barrier, it’s important to increase and highlight awareness around the importance of seeking help. If more individuals share their experiences and tools for coping, more veterans will be likely to take the next step toward healing.” Increasing awareness around veterans’ mental health struggles specifically may also help bring more attention to other needed solutions as aforementioned, like making information about available resources more clear and supplying sufficient virtual resources for those who are not able to travel to in-person services.
National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK572092/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: https://www.va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/mental-health/
Military OneSource: https://www.militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness/mental-health/
The National Alliance on Mental Illness: https://www.nami.org/findsupport
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://988lifeline.org/
Oceans Healthcare: https://oceanshealthcare.com/veterans-and-mental-health/
American Veterans Group: https://www.americanvetsgroup.com/hope-for-veterans-overcoming-barriers-to-mental-health-treatment
National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499497/#sec_000147