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Veterans Must Deal with Mental Wounds Too

Posted: 7/22/2012

Posted July 22, 2012

Alan Johnson

America's wars are winding down, but America's warriors are coming home with hidden wounds: post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression and other serious mental-health problems.

As a result, alcohol and drug problems, family violence and suicide are plaguing veterans and their loved ones, according to a National Alliance on Mental Illness report released today. A veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes in the U.S., while someone on active duty takes his or her life every 36 hours, the NAMI report says.

The national report, "Parity for Patriots," provides detailed statistics on growing mental illness affecting many of the 2.2 million active-duty personnel in the U.S. and millions more veterans and families members.

Quoting a 911 call-center counselor, the report says, "He just said he thinks he should walk out into traffic on Interstate 5 and end it all. That life is not worth living."

NAMI concluded that the Veterans Affairs medical system is "hard to penetrate" for those seeking mental-health treatment. Half wait 50 days for their initial assessment. The agency has a backlog of nearly 900,000 cases awaiting disability benefits.

At the same time, barriers remain to parity between physical and mental-heath care -- despite a 2008 law aimed at fixing the problem.

Attitudes also play a big role, NAMI reported. Active military personnel and many veterans are reluctant to seek treatment for fear of the stigma.

Mental-health problems are prevalent in family members, too: Thirty-seven percent of spouses were diagnosed with various disorders, and one-third of the 776,000 children of active military personnel have acute stress reaction, depression, anxiety or behavior disorders, the report said.

Ohio has the fifth-highest number of current and former military personnel among the states, with 8,261 regular armed-forces members, 28,523 National Guard and reserves members, and 704,861 veterans -- a total of 741,645, or 3.8 percent of the national total of 19.5 million.

NAMI recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should enforce parity between physical and mental-health services, that the Department of Defense should reduce the stigma of mental-health treatment, and the Veterans Health Administration should increase service capacity.

The report called for expanding qualifications for the Purple Heart medal to cover veterans suffering from stress disorder resulting from hostile action and terrorism.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton, a longtime advocate for the mentally ill who will focus on veterans in the criminal-justice system when she retires at the end of this year, said the NAMI report statistically shows mental health is a serious problem.

"What was missing in the report is veterans' involvement in the criminal-justice system," Stratton said.

Many people about to be discharged are reluctant to reveal they are suffering from mental-health problems for fear they won't be allowed to go home, she said. When they do go home, they begin drinking, doing drugs and inflicting violence on their spouses or others.

"All these things lead to involvement in the criminal-justice system, which is often the first time they access help," Stratton said. "We want to get to them before they get to that stage."

ajohnson@dispatch.com

@ohioaj

©2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

 
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