Honoring our Veterans through better mental health understanding
Last updated 11/10/2022 at 9:12pm
Special to the Village News
Veterans Day, Nov 11, is a day for understanding. It’s an important day for honoring all those who have served and sacrificed, and all those who are currently doing so. There are many efforts underway to honor them further by understanding their struggles, including mental health struggles, so that we may support them and help them in their journey to find the peace they deserve after returning home.
When asked what they believe the most effective means of mental health support for veterans is, both Post Commander James Healon, and Post Service Officer Chris Ingraham, of the Fallbrook VFW, were quick to reply, “We push hard for camaraderie. Be with other veterans that have the same things as you have. Hang out and talk with other veterans who are going through the same thing.”
Camaraderie doesn’t always need to come in human form. According to veterinarians.org, 19% of all service dogs trained are trained to help those with PTSD. “One thing that saved my life was a PTSD service dog. Service dogs are huge,” said Ingraham. Sadly, according to purina.com, currently less than 1% of those in need of a service animal are able to receive one.
With recent legislation, there is hope that the number of service dogs paired with veterans will increase. President Biden signed the PAWS Act in late August 2021, which allows the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program to train dogs for therapy and supply service dogs to veterans with mental illnesses.
While we look forward to an increased number of service dogs aiding and saving veterans in the future, it’s important to know what kinds of resources there are to help our veterans now, and to understand which other resources are the most effective in helping our veterans achieve positive results.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has shown great promise in helping veterans process their traumas much more effectively than previous methods. Having been thoroughly researched, it is now recognized by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization, and the Department of Defense as an effective form of treatment. Ingraham explains, “Think of your brain as a file cabinet. REM acts as the secretary; in REM sleep your brain is filing everything you did that day. People that don’t achieve REM sleep have that trauma right at the front of their brain. [EMDR] simulates REM sleep while you are awake.”
It’s not enough for our veterans to understand that these resources are available and effective, we also need to continue moving away from stigmas and other issues that keep them from feeling able to reach out for help. As Ingraham puts it, “You can have all the resources in the world, but if you can’t get them to admit they have an issue you can’t get help. They train us to be invincible, so when it comes time to be vulnerable, it’s very difficult.”
There is still a long road ahead, according to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, which also stresses that we need to have the ability to help our veterans unburden themselves, as suicide is still a serious problem. The annual report states that throughout 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death among veterans under age 45. The suicide rate for veterans was 57.3% greater than for non-veteran U.S. adults. There were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths in 2020 alone, 31.7 deaths per 100,000.
It’s important to know the signs of someone contemplating suicide. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, signs of an individual contemplating suicide include hopelessness, isolating oneself, apathy, insomnia, outbursts of anger or rage, and an increase in substance use or abuse. Some behaviors can be easier to recognize than others, but it often takes an understanding of who the person is to effectively see the signs.
“It’s all personality-driven. It comes down to being observant; you can’t just look at someone and say this is his problem, you have to have a heart. People that don’t sleep, you can see the bags under their eyes. Not eating, if you never see them eat,” said Ingraham.
Veterans Day is certainly a day to honor the brave men and women who fight for our country. We may not be able to fully comprehend what they have been through, but we will be able to honor them more each year if we continue striving to better understand and respect their struggles and to give them the help they need at home to find peace, to be able to stop fighting, and to enjoy the freedoms they’ve fought so bravely for.
This Veterans Day, keep fighting for them, appreciating them, and honoring them by giving the best support possible, but also, do your best to keep our veterans in your hearts and minds year-round. Ingraham reminds us, “[Veterans Day] means a lot, and the sacrifices need to be appreciated, but they need to be appreciated all year long, not just one day in November. And not just veterans, but their families too. November is military family awareness month. Many families are without their veteran, because they never came home. One of the biggest misconceptions is that Memorial Day is for those who died and Veterans Day is for those still alive, but if you wore the uniform in any of our forces, Veterans Day is for you.”
The VA offers a wide range of programs for veterans and their families. “Vets for Warriors” is a peer support network with veterans on the line for those in need. The number is 1-855-838-8255. Veterans may also choose to access the 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line Number for support: dial 988, then press 1.
There are also many foundations across the country set up to help veterans overcome the fight against mental illness, and to avoid suicide, such as the Daniel Ferguson Memorial Foundation, located at 325 N. Brandon Road in Fallbrook.
“For anyone who is struggling, there are resources; the VA crisis line, the local American legion, we have resources and we can help people. The VFW and American Legion exist to serve our fellow vets, war-time or not, we are here to help,” said Ingraham.