Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Mental-Health Support Available for Virginia’s Veterans, Active-Duty Military

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, America had roughly 17.4 million military veterans as of 2019. (Adobe Stock)

Virginia is home to more than 780,000 military veterans, and one organization is offering mental and emotional support.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Homefront program is a free, six-class course for veterans, active-duty military members and their families.

Mary Beth Walsh, director of programs for NAMI-Virginia, said military families often have their own unique mental and emotional needs, which the program aims to address.

“It’s an educational course that helps lead family members through ways that they can not only help their loved ones, but also ways that they can focus on themselves and gain support for their own needs,” Walsh explained.

In addition to NAMI’s program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also offers care via its mental-health specialty clinics, primary-care clinics, nursing homes and residential care facilities. Walsh pointed out NAMI also partners with VA facilities to offer peer-to-peer support programs, which emphasize connecting veterans with folks who have shared experiences.

Walsh noted the peer-to-peer support model is used across NAMI’s other mental-health programs, but is particularly important for veterans. As she explained, military veterans have a unique culture, language and experiences.

“Being able to talk to somebody who has been there and can really say, ‘I’ve been through what you’re going through,’ it’s such a huge aspect of what can really help somebody feel not so isolated and alone,” Walsh emphasized.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said there are a few signs people should keep an eye out for if they think someone is struggling with their mental health.

“Things that you really worry about are like loss of interest in things, a loss of feeling happiness or pleasure, really feeling helpless or hopeless,” Randall advised. “Generally, we get concerned when those kinds of feelings persist for more than two weeks.”

According to the federal government, more than 1.7 million veterans received mental-health counseling through a VA program in the 2018 fiscal year. The department also has a veterans’ crisis phone line for emergency situations.

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