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Guest Opinion

Never forget the countless veterans battling addiction

Many veterans struggle with substance use and mental health disorders, often leading to overdose and suicide. On Memorial Day, millions of Americans will take time to honor the memory of those men and women who lost their life while serving in the U.S. military.

Outside of this day, we must never forget the veterans who lost the battle against addiction and mental illness and the many more who are still struggling. Fortunately, there are supports and ways families can help.

In Oregon are over 280,000 veterans. Most of these vets are wartime veterans. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 3.9 million veterans have a substance use disorder or mental illness.

Unfortunately, substance use disorders significantly increase suicidality among veterans ages 18 and older. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common among veterans ages 18 to 49.

“Too many veterans fall through the cracks and do not receive the help or support they need. Early intervention saves lives,” said Michael Leach of Addicted.org.

There are many reasons veterans struggle with substance use or mental health disorders, for many veterans who spend their adult years in military service may find it difficult to adjust to civilian life. They may experience financial hardships, difficulty finding employment, or accessing benefits.

Veterans are also at a higher risk of experiencing mental and emotional health concerns. This can be compounded with physical injury or chronic pain. Untreated, for example, can impact every aspect of life. All of this or one problem can lead to drug and alcohol use as a means of coping.

Veterans also face barriers to accessing treatment and support. Cost and insurance gaps are common. Stigma regarding substance use and mental health disorders are still prominent. There are also issues with inadequate funding and limited access to treatment in rural locations.

Outside of the usual help through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the VA facility locator, there are other support options to consider:

• The Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs provides numerous services and support;

• Helpful hotlines include the Veterans Crisis Line, 1-800-273-8255, and the Lifeline for Vets, 1-888-777-4443;

• SAMHSA has a treatment facility locator where veterans can find specific help in Oregon for substance use and mental health disorders.

Families also play a critical role in helping their loved ones struggling with addiction. Speaking to them openly and honestly about their substance use is okay. Express concern but refrain from passing judgment. Help them find treatment. Be patient and always show compassion.

It takes communities and families coming together to help our veterans struggling with addiction. Early intervention saves lives, and it’s never too late to offer a helping hand.

Veronica Raussin is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Addicted.org, passionate about spreading awareness of the risks and dangers of alcohol & drug use.

 

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