Just because someone serves in the military doesn’t mean he or she will develop a mental health condition. However, serving in the military does increase the risk for a group of mental health conditions that disproportionately affect military service members and veterans. Posttraumatic stress (PTSD), for example, affects anywhere from 10% to 30% of veterans, whereas the civilian population will only experience PTSD at a rate of about 4% to 10%. Military sexual trauma—the term the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses to describe “sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment that occurred while the veteran was in the military”—is another prevalent issue that affects the physical and mental health of service members and veterans. In 2012, it was estimated that 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted while serving in the military.
Physical and mental health issues of veterans are typically handled by the VA, although programs exist that also offer private health care options to veterans. Additionally, many private-practice therapists specialize in the treatment of trauma and support groups for veterans. Veterans service organizations such as Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and The American Legion also play an important role in veteran health and advocacy. There is a fairly robust support network for veterans once they leave the military, but it can be confusing to navigate (especially for someone seeking help for a mental health condition) and many veterans slip through the cracks awaiting treatment. The government is continuously working to improve veteran health care, and there are many ways we can individually influence mental health care for veterans.
Raising awareness and educating yourself about the physical and mental struggles of military service members and veterans is a great way to help make life better for those who put on the uniform. To help service members and their loved ones access information and support, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best online resources for military service members and veterans—excluding GoodTherapy.org—in 2014. Our selections are based on presentation, depth of content, and functionality.
- Operation Revamp: This nonprofit organization promotes mental health healing and wellness for veterans through a variety of resources and materials. Focusing on emotional scarring and trauma, the website explains, “PTSD is not about what you do, but about what happened to you.” Volunteers offer programs primarily centered on art classes in Colorado, where Operation Revamp is based, and improving wellness through creativity and art appreciation.
- After Deployment: Veterans and their families can find information about an array of mental health issues on AfterDeployment, as well as resources to support them in dealing with stigma, spiritual challenges, finance problems, and more. AfterDeployment also offers online assessments, a community forum, and multimedia content on various mental health topics. Caregivers and professionals in the mental health field specializing in veterans issues can also find information to assist them in caring for veterans and their families.
- Real Warriors: The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) created Real Warriors, a campaign to raise awareness for military mental health and encourage veterans to seek professional help for invisible wounds, in 2009. Real Warriors is a project by the Defense Department and is an ongoing effort to normalize mental health care in the military community, reduce stigma, and promote appropriate care for psychological issues that occur for veterans and their families. The Real Warriors site features sections and resources specifically for active duty military, veterans, the National Guard, families, and mental health professionals.
- Hire Heroes USA: This nonprofit organization helps active duty military members transition to civilian life, then facilitates training to assist veterans in finding and securing employment. Through one-on-one coaching, volunteers with Hire Heroes help veterans create resumes and build a unique plan for finding work. In 2013, Hire Heroes conducted 74 workshops across the country for veterans; the organization’s website states that it helps an average of 24 veterans get hired per week.
- Give An Hour: Sometimes financial concerns or insurance complications prohibit people from seeking or securing adequate mental health care. This can be especially true for veterans and their families, which is why the Give An Hour (GAH) nonprofit organization was founded. GAH is a directory of mental health professionals who have all agreed and volunteered to provide at least one hour of their time per week to counsel a veteran or veteran’s family member. Many therapist members of GAH continue to volunteer with the organization for years, offering time and services to military members in need.
- Veterans Crisis Line: This hotline supports veterans and their loved ones confidentially by phone, text message, and online. Affiliated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VeteransCrisisLine.net features resources that can help veterans identify signs of crisis and even take a quiz to help determine stress and anxiety levels. Active duty service members, family members, and friends can also get urgent, confidential help by phone or online with mental health issues associated with military service.
- Operation Not Forgotten: Upon reentering and transitioning to civilian life, veterans often find that they feel alone in their struggles, or that the majority of people around them cannot relate to their past experiences. Operation Not Forgotten is a nonprofit organization that facilitates support groups of veterans and their peers all over the United States, called Vet Life Communities. Current communities are in Georgia, Texas, and New York, but any veteran can complete a form on the Operation Not Forgotten website and submit an application to start a community in their area.
- Health.mil: The official website of the Defense Health Agency and the Military Health System, this site provides information regarding news and policies related to military mental health, as well as resources for families and mental health professionals. A section of the site titled Operation Live Well encourages active and past duty military members to improve health and wellness by learning about nutrition, smoking cessation, sleep, and alcohol awareness. The online tools and assessments listed are useful for healing and treatment, as well as preventative measures.
- Veterans Support Organization: In 2001, the Veterans Support Organization (VSO) was created to establish a food bank in Rhode Island. Since then, however, donations have helped VSO grow to hire and otherwise assist veterans who may be homeless or struggling with financial distress. By offering opportunities to veterans for work soliciting donations to the VSO, the organization helps provide comfort and, often, relief from mental health problems like self-esteem issues and posttraumatic stress.
- Combat Stress UK: Like other resources mentioned, Combat Stress is a charity that exists to provide mental health relief with counseling services at no cost to veterans or their family members. Combat Stress is based in the United Kingdom, and hosts a free 24-hour help line for service members who may be in crisis. Combat Stress also employs individuals who can visit with veterans in person to help with practical and day-to-day issues like finances. More intensive treatment options offered include rehabilitation programs and workshops.
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- Cooper, H. (2014, May 1). Pentagon Study Finds 50% Increase in Reports of Military Sexual Assaults. The New York Times. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/02/us/military-sex-assault-report.htm
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (2014). 2014 IAVA member survey. Retrieved from http://media.iava.org/IAVA_Member_Survey_2014.pdf
- Military Sexual Trauma. (n.d.). United states department of veterans affairs: mental health. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/msthome.asp
- United States Department of Veteran Affairs. (2014). About va mental health. Retrieved December 18, 2014, from http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/VAMentalHealthGroup.asp
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014). How common is PTSD? Retrieved November 15, 2014, from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/PTSD-overview/basics/how-common-is-ptsd.asp
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