Substance use is a severe problem in any context. Many veterans struggle with this and mental health issues. While Memorial Day allows every American to remember those who gave their lives in service of their country, it should also remind us of those struggling after returning home.
In Alaska, there are over 70,000 veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Nationally, one in four veterans struggled with illicit drugs, and one in four have a serious mental illness.
Substance use and mental health problems are ongoing issues for countless veterans. These problems are also directly linked to homelessness and suicide.
Families, friends and communities can help by being aware, recognizing the issues and providing support and help.
“Substance use disorders are complex and influenced by numerous factors in a person’s life. Unfortunately, for many veterans, military life came with its own set of risk factors and causes,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.
There is no simple answer to why veterans struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Yet, the reality is many of them face difficulties when they leave service. This can include financial hardships, difficulty finding employment or accessing benefits, struggling to transition to civilian life and emotional distance from family members or friends.
Many veterans have untreated emotional, physical and mental health concerns, increasing the risk of substance use, addiction and suicide. Untreated trauma is an underlying factor directly impacting all areas of life.
Fortunately, many resources are available, and many states are taking the necessary steps to expand care for veterans. Resources can include some of the following:
• The Alaska Office of Veterans Affairs strives to help veterans and their families improve their lives.
• The Alaska Warrior Partnership is a veteran-fo cused community-led initiative.
• The VA Facility locator, VA Supportive Housing and Homeless Veterans Community Employment Services are provided through the U.S. Depart ment of Veterans Affairs, among other programs.
• SAMHSA provides an extensive directory of sub stance use disorder and mental health treatment services for veterans.
• Important phone numbers include the Veteran
Crisis Line 1-800-276-8255 and the Lifeline for Vets 1-888-777-4443.
When paying for services, families may want to consider combining VA benefits with other forms of insurance, such as private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Substance use treatment centers often have specialized treatment programs for veterans, including co-occurring disorders.
Additionally, states must take steps toward addressing substance use among veterans. This could include reducing the amount of opioids or benzodiazepines prescribed, utilizing alternative treatments and funding more treatment for substance use disorders.
Memorial Day allows us to remember those we lost and who made the ultimate sacrifice. Yet, we must not forget those struggling in silence after serving their country. These men and women deserve the help and support they need to manage and treat substance use and mental health problems effectively.
Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol and drug use.