Understanding veterans’ mental health statistics and their mental health risks is essential to helping them get the care they need. Veterans’ suicide prevention begins with knowledge and information about the challenges they are facing. They do an important service for the country and deserve the assistance required to face their struggles head-on. Many resources are available to help in times of crisis.
Understanding Who Veterans Are
The latest data from 2021 reveals there are approximately 16.5 million military veterans in the United States. Although there are currently more male veterans, the number of females enlisting in the military is rising. There are 1.7 million female veterans in the United States. In 2021, 231,741 women were in active-duty force, and 171,000 women were in the National Guard. This made up 17.3% and 21.4%, respectively.
The age breakdown of the veteran population is estimated as follows:
- Ages 18 to 34 years comprise 8.2%.
- Ages 35 to 54 years comprise 24.0%.
- Ages 55 to 64 years comprise 18.6%.
- Ages 65 to 74 years comprise 24.8%.
- Ages 75 and over comprise 24.4%.
Risks Veterans Face When Coming Home
Due to the nature of their service, veterans face various risk factors when returning home from service or getting discharged from their duties. These risk factors contribute to poor outcomes for many of the men and women who’ve served the country.
Men and women in the military are at an increased risk for physical injury. These may include wounds from being in a battle, vehicle accidents, sprains, and strains, hearing loss or tinnitus, head injuries, and chronic musculoskeletal pain (CMP).
A total of 30% of veterans have some disability.
Many veterans endure significant trauma after going through combat. Even if they may not engage in warfare themselves, seeing others get killed, maimed, or injured could lead to a traumatized response.
Also, during times of stress and danger, the body commonly experiences a surge of heightened adrenaline and a fight or flight response.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is more common among veterans than the general population. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 7% will experience PTSD.
Vets with PTSD may experience symptoms such as:
- Avoidance of things that trigger memories about the event
- Hopeless feelings about life and the future
- Difficulty with memory
- Intrusive memories and dreams
- Irritability or angry outbursts
Unemployment and Poverty
Veterans have long been at a higher risk for poverty and homelessness. If a vet is struggling with PTSD or another mental health disorder, it makes it challenging to hold down a job. It’s also challenging to keep up with a full-time job if medical conditions hinder a vet’s ability to perform. These factors can lead to homelessness.
Veterans Mental Health Statistics
Aside from PTSD, as mentioned above, many experience an array of other mental health issues. The National Institute of Health (NIH) research reveals that one-third of veterans have at least one mental health disorder diagnosis, and 41% have either mental health or a behavioral adjustment disorder.
Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders may range in intensity, but even in mild cases can affect the person’s ability to manage life effectively. For example, researchers from the VA New England MIRECC and the Yale School of Medicine conducted a study with veterans experiencing anxiety and PTSD which found that they had a much higher rate of homelessness than the general veteran population.
PTSD is also linked to higher rates of suicidal thoughts and impulses, making this mental health condition a significant risk. Compared to the general U.S. population, veteran suicides are higher by 57.3%. The total number that committed suicide in 2020 was 6,146.
However, the suicide rate among veterans is slowly decreasing. According to the most recent VA report, there were 343 fewer veteran suicides in 2020 than there were in 2019.
Only through the continued work of the VA and qualified mental health professionals can they receive the proper treatment and counseling to help them cope and bring down these statistics even further.
Substance Use Disorders
Misusing drugs or alcohol is a common method of escape for many people. Since substances provide a temporary feeling of euphoria, veterans may use them to numb the feelings and memories of combat. However, the risk for addiction is high when using illicit substances.
Approximately one-fourth of them struggle with illicit drugs, and 80% battle alcohol misuse. One in 10 veterans has been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which is higher than the general population. Between substance misuse and mental health disorders, veterans are likely to have one or the other condition.
Some dealing with untreated mental health problems or suffering from PTSD may turn to drugs or alcohol as a “quick fix” to the problem. Yet, it ends up being an additional problem in the end. When someone has a mental health condition like PTSD combined with substance abuse, they need treatment for a dual-diagnosis disorder. This requires therapy for veterans that addresses the underlying problem and detox in some cases.
Resources for Veterans in Need
Veterans don’t have to suffer from a mental health disorder in silence. The VA is committed to veterans’ suicide prevention and providing care for mental health issues.
The Veterans Affairs mental health services department has made mental health a top priority and recently implemented the National Strategy For Preventing Veteran Suicide and Reducing Military and Veteran Suicide programs. These programs provide a roadmap for assisting those at risk for suicide, whether they have benefits or not.
They also have expanded their benefits to include those who are not currently enrolled but experiencing a crisis. Now, they can seek care at no cost if they are dealing with suicidal thoughts or amid a crisis, allowing access to up to 9 million more veterans.
In some cases, an individual may be able to go to any VA or non-VA healthcare facility for emergency healthcare at no cost. This may include inpatient or crisis residential care for some time up to 30 days. Outpatient care may be covered for up to 90 days.
Another way the Veterans’ Affairs mental health services department is working to help with mental illness is to leverage community providers to provide therapy. They would just need to get approval and a referral from the VA. Then they can schedule an appointment with a mental health provider, such as Telemynd, which provides telehealth and telemedicine care.
Keep in mind that if you are having a crisis, you should reach out to emergency helplines or call 911 right away. Many helplines are available, such as the veteran crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and the veterans’ suicide hotline by dialing 988. These hotlines are available 24/7.
How to Access Veteran Mental Health Care
Veterans should be proactive in their mental health care. In other words, at the first sign of a problem, reach out to the resources available Often, telehealth is a great way to begin the journey, as you can access compassionate, licensed, and experienced mental health care from the comfort of your own home. You can even get a prescription using telehealth services through the VA referral.
Start this process by consulting with your VA physician and telling them about your mental health concerns. They can give you the referral necessary to seek mental health care and have your VA benefits cover the cost.
If you lack VA benefits but are experiencing mental health challenges, you are likely covered under the new initiatives mentioned above. Reach out to VA.gov to get the referral necessary for your covered care. You must specifically ask for authorization to seek treatment at Telemynd. Once you receive the authorization, you can contact us directly for an appointment.