Each year on November 11 our nation takes a day to honor the service and sacrifice of our brave military members both past and present. This day, the 11th has a special meaning which is why it was chosen as Veterans Day. It marks the 1918 signing of the Armistice between the Allies and Germany. This signing marked the end of the Western Front fighting in World War I. The treaty was signed at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month. This is why Veteran’s Day is celebrated every year on November 11.
These military members deserve a day of recognition—and so much more. For many of them, their sacrifices turn into ongoing pain and suffering that many don’t see. It’s important to understand that while many civilians only think of these sacrifices once a year, some veterans continue to struggle with issues from their service on a daily basis.
These individuals and their families have given much so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms of living in the United States but sadly, many of them are unable to enjoy daily life—even years after active service. Many of the issues faced by veterans are also faced by civilians, however, the rates at which veterans experience these issues are much higher.
4 Common Challenges Veterans Face
Years of studying veterans once they return to civilian life have revealed that they suffer from certain issues more than others in the general population. And after all they have been through, it’s easy to see why.
It’s important to raise awareness about the most common challenges for veterans today. With awareness comes help and support. It’s vital that the community come together and support veterans in the areas they most need it. After all they’ve given for us, it really is the least we as civilians and community members can do.
1. Mental Health Issues
Veterans have seen and experienced situations that most people only see on TV or in the movies. Most of us will never have to go through what they have. Sadly, these traumatic experiences can lead to mental health issues.
One of the most commonly experienced mental health issues for veterans is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This can be a result of being involved in direct combat and active duty. According to the National Center for PTSD, 17% of military personnel involved in active combat have PTSD.
- 11-20 out of every 100 who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have PTSD
- 12 out of every 100 Gulf War veterans have PTSD
- 30 out of every 100 who served in the Vietnam War have had PTSD in their lifetime
In addition to active combat causing PTSD, research shows that the rates of sexual assault in the military are also high and can lead to increased rates of PTSD. The National Center for PTSD reports the following about sexual assault in the military:
- 23 out of every 100 women in the military reported sexual assault
- 55 out of every 100 women in the military have been sexually harassed and 38 out of every 100 men have been sexually harassed in the military
Sexual assault and harassment can lead to an increased risk of developing PTSD> In the general population, about six of every 100 Americans have PTSD. As you can see, the rates of PTSD in veterans are much higher. In addition to PTSD, veterans are more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal ideations too.
Additionally, military personnel report that they believe if they sought help for mental health concerns including PTSD it would negatively impact their military career. There continue to be stigmas associated with mental health issues and this is particularly true for veterans and the active military. However, untreated mental health issues like PTSD and depression can lead to more serious concerns like suicide.
According to the Veteran’s Health Administration (VA), one in every five people who die from suicide is a veteran and about 20 veterans die each day by suicide. Isolation can be severe for veterans adding to the risk for suicide. In addition, a study from the University of Southern California revealed that periods of transition or change are when the risk is the highest.
This particularly includes times of unemployment and homelessness for veterans. During this time many veterans see themselves as a burden on loved ones as well as the community and nation. This can lead to an increased risk for suicide.
The VA has resources specifically for those veterans and family members faced with this issue:
This document provides information on suicide amongst veterans, warning signs, how to help, and where to get help.
As mentioned, homelessness can add to the risk of suicide. Sadly, many veterans today are homeless. Estimates are that about 30% of veterans are homeless. According to a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the number of homeless veterans increased in 2020, prior to the pandemic worsening employment opportunities and increasing mental health issues. The report found about 37,252 veterans were experiencing homelessness. That equates to 21 of every 10,000 veterans.
One of the reasons more veterans are homeless is because many of them suffer from mental health issues most often from the result of military service. In addition, when these issues such as PTSD and depression go untreated it can lead to alcohol and drug use. This is how many individuals—both veterans and civilians—cope with their pain. This self-medicating is dangerous and can—and often does—lead to addiction.
Addiction is another contributing factor to homelessness for veterans.
4. Alcohol and substance abuse
Alcohol and substance use disorders can impact anyone. However, there are certain factors that increase the risk for certain individuals. Mental health issues, including PTSD, increase a person’s risk for developing an addiction to alcohol or another drug. As mentioned, it is common for people with a mental health disorder to self-medicate to ease the discomfort. Often what begins as a seemingly innocent way to cope becomes a habit, then a dependence, then a full-blow addiction.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that more than one in ten veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD). Research shows that when military personnel are deployed the following increase:
- Unhealthy drinking
- Drug use
- Risky behaviors
The stressors and unique factors associated with active military service can increase risk factors for substance abuse. The military also has a zero-tolerance policy, lack of confidentiality, and mandatory random drug tests. This can contribute to the reluctance of military and veterans to seek help for substance use issues and mental health issues. In fact, the NIDA also reports that more than half of those in the military report that they believe if they sought help for any of these issues it would negatively impact their career.
In addition, when military personnel leave the military the rates of substance use increase with marijuana use leading the way. In fact, from 2002 to 2009 the Veterans Administration reported a 50% increase in vets using marijuana.
Another concern for veterans is their battle with ongoing pain. Many veterans have pain issues and this puts them at greater risk for opioid addiction and overdose. This too can lead to addiction to heroin and other illicit opioids. NIDA reports that between 2010 and 2016 opioid overdose rates amongst veterans increased from 14% to 21%.
Despite these issues, the most prevalent SUD amongst veterans is alcohol use disorder (AUD). Combat, exposure to violence, and trauma increase this risk. According to data, 65% of veterans who entered treatment for addiction did so for alcohol abuse—that’s nearly double of the general population.
No matter if a veteran or active military member is suffering from an AUD or SUD or mental health issue or all of these, treatment is effective. However, there are barriers to veterans receiving the treatment they need. Here are the most reported obstacles to getting addiction treatment and mental health support:
- Restricted access to services
- Gaps in insurance coverage
- Fear of negative consequences
- Lack of confidentiality
Removing these barriers is essential in order to help this vulnerable group who have given so much for our country. The VA and United States government has instituted certain programs to help veterans with these most common challenges.
The Opioid Safety Initiative, expanding the Tricare health system to include outpatient care, and the National Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide are a few examples.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment for Veterans
When it comes to treatment for both substance use disorders and mental health issues those in the military and veterans benefit from specialized programs aimed at their unique issues. Many of the issues veterans face are somewhat different from that of the general population. Specialized programs for military, veterans, and first responders aren’t as available as they should be; however, there are certain treatment centers offering specialized treatment programs for this group.
Futures Recovery Healthcare offers the Hero’s Ascent First Responders Track for addiction treatment. This inpatient program caters to the unique needs of first responders, veterans, and military personnel. In addition, Futures has a Mental Health Program solely devoted to mental health care. This is an option for those who don’t have an AUD or SUD but are suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and mood disorders.
This year on Veteran’s Day we honor our nation’s veterans, their families, and the sacrifices they’ve so bravely made for all of us. If you or someone you love is in need of treatment for an alcohol or drug issue or struggling with mental health issues, Futures is here for you. We want to help you or your loved one recover from addiction and mental health problems. Contact us confidentially either online or call 866-804-2098.