Our veterans are not getting the help they need when it comes to their mental health, and it’s becoming a national crisis.
The VA hospital system is overly complicated and under staffed. This leads to long wait times and confusion in the VA hospitals about which policies to follow (some VA policies contradict others), meaning that veterans aren’t getting access to appropriate mental health care. But actually, the stigma attached to seeking care for mental health issues may play a larger role than logistics when it comes to veterans not getting the help they need. Stigmas around mental health issues may stem from the military’s culture of promoting self-reliance, inner strength, and toughness. Furthermore, the fear of embarrassment, disappointing one’s comrades, and receiving a dishonorable discharge seem to cause veterans to shy away from seeking help.
But our veterans need help. Some statistics say that 30% of soldiers develop mental health problems after returning from active duty and that at least 20% of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffer from mental health issues directly related to the war. The biggest mental health issues facing our veterans are depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Untreated mental issues can lead to substance abuse; anger management issues; suicidal thoughts; changes in personality; and an inability to control one’s thoughts, actions, and behaviors. Combine a highly deadly skill set with untreated mental issues, and the results can be disastrous.
The recent shootings of police officers in Dallas and in Baton Rouge, both by ex-military men, paint a picture of men with a highly deadly skill set, trained and skilled in defeating an enemy – in these cases, the enemy was police officers. A clearer picture is still forming of the mental health of the two shooters, and with both shooters dead, the status of their mental health (combined with any untreated mental health issues) and how it contributed to their actions may never be completely known. [Addition: A more recent analysis of the Baton Rouge shooter indicates that he may have suffered from PTSD.]
With that said, shootings like the ones in Dallas and Baton Rouge should cause us as a nation to pause and address the growing population of veterans with untreated mental health concerns. There are a number of communities, organizations, and professionals who have expertise on ways to address this growing concern. We at Invictus Consulting are not experts in mental health or the VA system. But we see a societal issue that can impact people’s safety (which is something we are experts in), and we think it is worth reflecting on and discussing.