When returning from service, military veterans often need — and always deserve — help in return for serving their country. In fact, an estimated 58.6 percent of military veterans will need access to community-based services at some point. Yet only 41.4 percent of military veterans have used the Department of Veterans Affairs services they are eligible for in the past 15 years. A little-known government agency steps in to fill the gap by working with community-based organizations to bridge the military/civilian divide for veterans.
“It is not uncommon for many Army and Marine Corps units to have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan four or five or six times,” said Kathryn Power, regional administrator for Region 1 of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “This is a very unique group of veterans. In prior wars, we have not really had that level of sustained combat experience and, as everyone knows, anyone who has ever been in combat will sustain the effects of trauma.”
There are over 21.68 million veterans. Of those, only 8.97 million use the Veterans Affairs for services.
SAMHSA, which is a division under the federal Department of Health and Human Services, leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. Power is also the senior lead staff person at SAMHSA for connections with military service members, veterans and their families relating to behavioral health needs in America.
61 percent of individuals who have served may at some point need to access community-based services
Since many military veterans may have experienced trauma while serving, Power said behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress can surface after they return to civilian life.
“We want to be sure that we’re paying attention and that we’re connected to our veterans; that they’re connected to support services and health care,” Power said.
Community health agencies can help. “When someone comes in seeking help, community health workers should ask if the person has ever been in uniform or served in combat,” Power said. “The goal is to get community agencies more attuned to issues that may follow military service. After we connect with them, we have seen communities step up and say, ‘We definitely want to close that military/civilian divide.'”
Given the potential severity of behavioral health issues among military veterans, Power believes more community health organizations can be part of the solution. “People who have served in the war should have access to the kind of care they need, when and where they need it,” Power said. “Working with SAMHSA and the VA, these local organizations can make a meaningful and lasting difference for the people in their community.”