An Echo Press Editorial: Veterans need help fighting addictions
By the Echo Press Editorial Board
If you know a veteran, check in with them. Ask them how things are going. Have a real, genuine conversation about problems they may be silently dealing with. Be there for them.
And if you are a veteran who is struggling with feelings of hopelessness, isolation or mental health issues, don’t be too proud to seek help. As cold and uncaring as the world may seem these days, there are people who truly care about you and want you to live a long and happy life.
More veterans, right now, are fighting an inward battle – addictions.
A new study shows that one in 10 Minnesota veterans drank more alcohol during the pandemic than in previous years.
Over the past year, many communities across the U.S. have experienced varying degrees of challenges brought on by the pandemic, with veterans being among the most vulnerable, according to VeteranAddiction.org, a leading provider of resources for veterans relating to addiction treatment.
In addition to strenuous circumstances felt by many, including job loss, social isolation and mental health, veteran-serving organizations are also underfunded. Most of these establishments were operating on budgets of $25,000 or less per year prior to the pandemic, and that figure has decreased significantly, according to VeteranAddiction.org. With 5.2% of U.S. veterans currently unemployed, it’s resulted in financial stress for many.
The combinations of all these factors could be contributing to an increased risk of alcohol or substance addiction during these challenging times.
VeteranAddiction.org conducted a survey of 2,000 veterans. With age being a big risk factor for COVID-19 mortality, and nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. veterans over the age of 50, there’s no doubt this group has increased vulnerability to the disease, the survey concluded.
The stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic could lead many veterans to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Not only can alcohol exacerbate negative feelings, it can be very addictive as well, according to VeteranAddiction.org.
Given that a large majority (89.4%) of veterans with a substance use disorder did not seek treatment in 2018, this places the group at a significant risk of addiction.
“There is a strong link between drug use and mental health disorders, especially for veterans who have been exposed to high-stress circumstances as a result of combat,” VeteranAddiction.org noted. “Mental health challenges can be brought on by both stressful life events and/or genetic factors.”
A 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention annual report found the average number of veteran suicides per day was 17.6. A glimmer of good news: the data shows the rate of suicide among veterans who recently used VA health services has decreased.
So there is help out there, through the VA and other groups dedicated to helping veterans battle mental health issues. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs is collaborating with others to identify the root causes of Veteran suicide and create an innovative, cooperative way to reverse this trend. It’s working toward zero veteran deaths by suicide in Minnesota.
The first steps: If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, press 1.
The Veterans Crisis Line is the world’s largest provider of crisis call, text, and chat services, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It serves more than 650,000 calls every year, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Users also may text to 838255 or chat online to receive confidential crisis intervention and support.