There are dozens of organizations that can help veterans with mental health issues, but not all former servicemen and women - having belonged to a military “organization” for many years - are willing to approach established support groups and charitable associations for help.
Between 2002 and 2009, one million military personnel left active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan and became eligible for VA healthcare. Less than half the veterans eligible for the service took advantage of it, and 48% of those that did were diagnosed with a mental health issue. The reasons given by veterans with mental health issues for not seeking help included:
- They did not want to be treated differently.
- They did not want to be seen as being weak.
- Concerns that others would lose confidence in them.
- They did not believe the help on offer would be effective.
- They had problems with access and preferred to rely on family.
These reasons given why not all former servicemen and women are willing to approach an established support group (such as VA healthcare) or charitable association implies there is an institutional stigma attached to mental health issues. Indeed, veterans who sought help with mental health issues while on active service where often treated with suspicion or chastised for relying on antidepressants.
What Happens when Veterans with Mental Health Issues Don´t Seek Help
When veterans with mental health issues don´t seek help, they often struggle with reintegrating into society. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, veterans who go through the criminal justice system have high rates of untreated mental illness (PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc.), substance abuse, homelessness and other health-related issues.
The combination of mental health issues and substance abuse places veterans at a higher risk of incarceration. The criminal justice system does not provide the type of treatments that address veterans´ mental health issues, and the result is a vicious circle. Service-connected mental illness is over-criminalized, incarcerated veterans are under-treated, and recidivism rates increase.
As mentioned above, there are dozens of organizations that can help veterans with mental health issues. Some of them work exclusively with incarcerated veterans to help break the vicious circle. However, to be of maximum benefit, these specialized organizations have to be notified as soon as possible after an arrest is made in order to remove the former serviceman or woman from the justice system and deliver tailored treatments to address their mental health issues.
How Smart911 can Help Veterans with Mental Health Issues
Smart911 is a free service that allows users to create Personal Safety Profiles. Users can populate their profiles with any relevant information they would wish first responders to know in the event of an emergency. Whenever a call to 911 is made using a landline or mobile device recorded on the user´s profile, details of the user are displayed to the 9-1-1 call taker in the local Public Safety Answering Point.
The way in which Smart911 can help veterans with mental health issues, is for veterans to indicate on their Personal Safety Profiles they are former military personnel. It is not necessary to list any mental health issues that have been diagnosed; although the more information first responders can be provided with, the better they can be prepared for the situations and individuals they are likely to encounter.
The Smart911 service is particularly valuable for suicide prevention. Not only can first responders formulate a plan to deal with the potential of a veteran taking their own life, but they can also ensure resources are available when needed to help veterans with mental health issues - typically specialized organizations that can prevent veterans from being incarcerated by delivering tailored treatment.
If you would like to know more about how Smart911 can help veterans with mental health issues, visit the Smart911 Home Page. If you are a friend or family member of a former serviceman or women, please advise them about this service and let them know it is completely confidential and secure. Personal Safety Profiles can only be seen by 9-1-1 call takers, and it only takes a few minutes to complete a profile. Smart911 is not a treatment organization or a support group, but it could help veterans with mental health issues stay out of prison and could help save their lives.