(KSNF/KODE)—There are approximately 19 million veterans in the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are 1,113,787 in the four states alone. This means that just over 5% of the total veteran population in the United States is in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas.
Do veterans need support?
Understanding the types of challenges veterans may face is a start to supporting those who have served our country. Veterans face all kinds of obstacles after returning from service. According to National Academy of Sciences, many veterans suffer from more than one health condition, such as service-related physical disabilities, traumatic brain injury, or mental health issues. PTSD, sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, grief, substance abuse disorders, suicide, and suicidal thoughts are all very common among veterans. These challenges can often be isolation and receiving support or care is not always readily available.
Of the four states, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that the suicide rate in Missouri was significantly higher than the national suicide rate for veterans and higher than the national suicide rate for the general population. Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas were not reported as significantly higher or different from the national suicide rate for veterans or the general population.
Health issues aren’t the only challenges veterans face. Many face social and economic challenges as they attempt to readapt to civilian life. According to US Department of Housing and Urban Development Veterans accounted for 8% of homeless sheltered adults in 2021. This number does not take into account the likelihood that even more veterans are currently homeless outside of accounted shelters. Not to mention employment challenges. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics the declared unemployment rate for veterans was 4.4% everything veterans in the united states
Veterans need a full range of services that target health care and care transition to civilian life. Veterans face very specific and unique challenges due to the circumstances they faced during their service. However, many barriers can prevent veterans from seeking help, stigma being one of them. The American Addiction Center says military culture values ”teamwork, tenacity, and self-reliance.” Some veterans may be ashamed of needing help and embarrassed or afraid of being seen as weak or blamed for their problems. To combat this stigma, the US Department of Defense has launched programs aimed at reducing these misconceptions, particularly around mental health. You can read additional information about it here.
Do veterans have access to health care?
Although the Department of Veterans Affairs offers specific health care for veterans, some may not know if they are eligible or know how to apply. VH facilities may not be easily accessible for all veterans, especially those who are no longer able to drive or rely on others to transport them. More VHA health facilities in Missouri, are located in central Missouri, as seen here. In fact, this is a common trend in Oklahoma and Arkansas as well. Kansas only has a VA Clinic to serve the entire state. Traveling more than 3 hours for a visit is not ideal, especially if a veteran has to take time off work to do so, and nearly impossible if the veteran faces homelessness. Some benefits are free, but have a limit on the number of years after service a veteran can receive this care at no cost.
Travel, cost, work, and other limitations can open the door to many other issues and reasons why veterans don’t seek the care they need. There are other health care options such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, but there may also be barriers to eligibility through these pathways.
You can start seeking health care for a veteran in need by following this link HERE or contact your state’s Veterans Affairs Commission for more information about resources available in a specific area. To locate a Veterans Service Office/Officer near you, simply click on the highlighted state from the following: Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas.
How can I support a veteran who is going through a mental health crisis?
If you or someone you know is going through a mental health crisis or has thoughts of death or suicide, it’s important to tell someone right away. Day and night, the Veterans Crisis Line offers free support, is confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 988 and Press 1. To chat online, follow this link HERE Where text 838255.
According to CDC, the average suicide death rate among veterans is 17 per day. In this joint study report seen here, released in 2022 by America’s Warrior Partnership, Duke University and the University of Alabama, there were thousands of cases of suspected and confirmed veteran suicides that were not included in the federal calculations. If this trend had continued in all states and been included in the federal calculation, the national average would be 44 veterans per day instead of 17.
There are several ways to support someone in difficulty. You can protect them by learning how to prevent suicide and recognizing the signs here. Learning about and securing lethal means such as firearms and drugs is equally important. You can find more details on what this looks like and how you can implement these practices here.
What else can I do?
Public education and open conversations about the challenges veterans face will help de-stigmatize the act of asking for help. Reach out to members of your community and don’t shy away from difficult or uncomfortable conversations. These opportunities could help you and others understand the challenges of civilian life for veterans or open the door to sharing resources they may not know.
Donate to reputable nonprofits (like this one run and run by veterans) here), especially local organizations that help veterans in your area, and publicizing the services they offer is also helpful.
With a national decline in mental health, it is more important than ever that veterans know they are supported and cared for by their communities.
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