By Jim Lorraine, President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while veterans and their families are leaders in navigating stressful situations, there are times when they can use some help to overcome a challenge. Whether the severity of a mental health issue ranges from mild to critical, there are programs and services tailored to help veterans navigate their unique situation.
During times like this, it is important to connect with resources that are available to help.
Accessing Mental Health Support
First and foremost, as I have, you should memorize the number to the Veterans Crisis Line. Any veteran who is experiencing an urgent crisis should call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. The Veteran’s Crisis Line enables veterans to reach caring and qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. These counselors can help veterans who may be feeling anxious, lonely, or are thinking about suicide. Veterans in crisis or need of help can reach out to the hotline for connection and immediate support.
For situations that are less urgent but no less severe, there are physical and virtual resources that veterans may be able to use. For example, in your community, there could be a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, Community Based Outpatient Clinic, or Vet Center. In addition to these programs, there are community behavioral health and health centers that can address many less urgent stressors. A great point of contact in the local community would be your local County Veteran Service Officer. They likely know of local resources and can facilitate your connection. Lastly, you may seek peer support from local Veteran Serving Organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Team Red, White, and Blue, or the American Legion. However, if you are unable to navigate your community resources, you can contact the America’s Warrior Partnership Network, who will reliably connect veterans with a service provider from outside of their community, such as Vets4Warriors or the Cohen Veterans Network that specialize in peer and mental health support.
Advocating for New Resources and Programs
In addition to raising awareness of existing resources, one of the most important things that veterans can do this month – and throughout the rest of the year – is to advocate for new policies that will better support their brothers- and sisters-in-arms who live with a mental illness. One of the most cutting-edge pieces of legislation is Senate Bill 785, also called Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019. This bill unanimously passed the Senate and is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to improve mental health and end veteran suicide. We strongly encourage a bipartisan and bicameral approach to make this bill law.
Advocacy is especially critical in the national fight to reduce suicide and self-harm among veterans. One of the initiatives contributing to this effort is Operation Deep Dive, a four-year study currently being conducted by America’s Warrior Partnership and researchers from The University of Alabama with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The project is examining community risk factors involved in suicide and non-natural deaths among veterans in 14 communities across the country. By the study’s completion, researchers will develop a methodology that any community can implement to identify the unique risk factors of suicide among their local veterans and then address those factors through a customized support program.
As part of this study, Operation Deep Dive researchers are currently interviewing individuals who have either lost a loved one, friend, or acquaintance who was a veteran to suicide or a non-natural cause of death. These interviews will enable researchers to examine how a veteran was engaged within their community before their death, and more importantly, what can be done to better support veterans in the future.
To participate in an interview, individuals must be 18 or older and live within one of the 14 communities where Operation Deep Dive is taking place (the veteran must also have lived in that same community before their death). More information about the interviews and details on how to participate are available online.
By advocating for new policies and supporting essential programs, veterans can ensure their fellow service members who struggle with mental health challenges can build the quality of life that they have earned through their service.
About the Author
Jim Lorraine is President and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonprofit that empowers communities to empower veterans. The organization’s mission starts with connecting community groups with local veterans to understand their unique situations. With this knowledge in mind, America’s Warrior Partnership connects local groups with the appropriate resources to proactively and holistically support veterans at every stage of their lives. Learn more about the organization at AmericasWarriorPartnership.org.