Invisible Wounds of War: A Town Hall on Reframing Veteran Mental Health

·5 min read

Paid for by Wounded Warrior Project

This virtual town hall, hosted by the Wounded Warrior Project, in partnership with Yahoo News, highlights the urgent issue of mental health and suicide prevention for veterans. This discussion highlights critical resources for veterans in need, marking the end of Suicide Prevention Month and the start of National Depression and Mental Health Screening month in October.

As Americans wait to see how recent iterations of veteran suicide prevention legislation will progress in Congress, veteran service charity organizations such as Wounded Warrior Project are determined to advance the conversation around treatment for injured service members struggling with mental health.

“High rates of our heroes are living today with invisible wounds — depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), debilitating effects of traumatic brain injury,” says Michael Linnington, CEO of Wounded Warrior Project and a participant of the town hall discussion. “At Wounded Warrior Project, we say the greatest casualty is being forgotten. That means we do everything in our power to ensure that wounded warriors are not forgotten, that their service is honored and that they are truly empowered to live lives to their fullest upon their return home.”

Wounded Warrior Project’s 2020 Annual Warrior Survey reported that almost one-third of its nearly 30,000 respondents acknowledged having thoughts related to suicide in the past two weeks between May and June of this year. And while suicide prevention is a significant motivation for Wounded Warrior Project’s experiential and clinical program development, it’s not the only mental health risk facing post-9/11 veterans who experienced physical or mental injury or illness while serving in the military.

The transition from active duty to civilian life can be difficult, particularly in combination with the stress, anxiety and depression which frequently follows exposure to traumatic experiences. And while many services are provided through government and non-governmental agencies, organizations and medical facilities, roadblocks and barriers between veterans and treatment remain.

Despite the prevalence of mental health struggles among combat veterans across the U.S., societal stigmas are often credited with widening the gap between veteran mental health need and support.

“Treatment absolutely works,” said Richardson, “and we have a lot of opportunity to provide that treatment to our warriors and their family members, breaking down those barriers, breaking down those stigmas. Our mission is to honor and empower our wounded warriors, and we do that through the delivery service of a plethora of programs from physical health and wellness, to mental health and wellness, to social connectedness, to financial wellness.”

The virtual event features a panel of Wounded Warrior Project alumni, in addition to Linnington and Richardson. Dr. Barbara Rothbaum — executive director of Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, a partner of Wounded Warrior Project’s Warrior Care Network — contributes a clinical perspective to the conversation.

“PTSD is a disorder of avoidance,” said Dr. Rothbaum. “The way I see it is that people are haunted by something that happened to them in the past and they tend to avoid treatment. In regular treatment for PTSD there is about 50 percent dropout rate, at Emory’s program, we have a better than 90 percent retention rate.”

Both veterans participating in the town hall, Taniki Richard and Jason Foster, have experienced empowerment through treatment of their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at Wounded Warrior Project programs. Both Richard and Foster have also gone on to become peer support mentors for other veterans involved with the organization. In sharing their personal journeys from struggling with PTSD and suicidal thoughts to becoming mental health advocates, Richard and Foster provide evidence of the opportunities that widespread mental health awareness can provide for veterans.

“It took me trying to take my life, in order to know my life was important enough to be saved,” said Foster. “If you are struggling, if you don’t even know why you’re struggling but you are struggling, you don’t have to fight this on your own. It’s a dangerous battle to fight on your own, you need somebody else. You need help.”

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to suicide prevention and other mental health challenges facing veterans, there are many options for intervention. Wounded Warrior Project’s Warrior Care Network provides clinical health treatment at four partner academic medical centers. Project Odyssey provides experiential, adventure-based healing that helps veterans build resilience and teaches them to work together to overcome challenges. The organization also offers telephone support to wounded veterans and families as part of its services.

“What I really want to say to any veteran who is suffering with PTSD or suffering with depression is don’t lose hope,” said Taniki. “Once you have hope and know you can make it just another day, you will.”

To learn more about veteran mental health and treatment, watch the video above.

If you or a veteran you know is considering suicide, please call the Veteran Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255 (press 1) or text the Veteran Crisis Textline at 838255.

From Wounded Warrior Project:

The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit organization established to support and address the physical and mental health needs of post-9/11 injured veterans and their families. To learn more, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.

This article was sponsored by Wounded Warrior Project and co-created by RYOT Studio. Yahoo News editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.