CHARLESTON, W.Va. – For generations, men and women have been returning from military service and combat areas to face unique physical and mental health challenges. Throughout history, friends and family members of these brave veterans have struggled to understand why their loved ones seem different upon their return home.
After the Civil War veterans were often said to have “soldier’s heart” because of mysterious changes in their blood pressure and heart-rate. This common diagnosis changed to “shell shock” during World War I, when it was believed repeated blasts and gunfire caused a disruption in veterans’ neurological connections. “Combat exhaustion” and “combat fatigue” are other phrases you may have often heard in reference to veterans’ health post-combat.
However, after years of research, it is now believed that all of the aforementioned diagnoses are related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Depression and PTSD are the most common conditions affecting veterans, with about 30 percent of service members developing some form of mental health problem within three or four months of discharge. The good news is that we are finally beginning to recognize the signs and are exploring treatment options for our veterans.
The federal VA now operates a hotline veterans can access twenty four hours a day if they are experiencing a mental health crisis. Here in West Virginia, our veteran social workers stand ready to connect veterans with mental health services as needed, through local vet centers, federal VA clinics, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and community support groups. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we must continue to improve these services. The national suicide rate among veterans is approximately 22 individuals per day, and until that number reaches zero, there is work to be done.
For more than 50 years, Americans have observed Mental Health Awareness Month with the hope of educating the public about the struggles so many of our veterans face each and every day. We must eliminate the stigmas associated with mental health problems and find more effective solutions by learning all we can about illnesses such as depression and PTSD. More importantly, we must remember our veterans and their sacrifices throughout the month of May and support those suffering from mental illness.
The veteran crisis hotline is available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net or by calling 1-800-273-8255.
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