Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
Sometimes The Best Medicine For A Veteran Is The Company Of Another Veteran
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Many take time on Memorial Day to remember the Americans who have given their lives in service to our country, but for veterans and their families, that sentiment of remembrance is felt year-round. Many veterans suffer lifelong anguish over the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms. For them, Memorial Day is a day like every other day – a day they remember those who died at war.
This shared grief is just one way some veterans are affected by their military service. Veterans are also molded by military culture – a unique set of values, traditions, language and even humor. Military culture has unique subcultures, but it has enough consistency across different branches, ranks and time periods to make most veterans feel a kinship.
Recognizing this kinship has led veteran service and health care organizations to encourage veterans to build trusting relationships and support each other. Researchers have learned that veterans are more likely to share personal information and ask advice about many things, including health care, from fellow veterans. That’s why the VA offers employment to veterans as peer specialists.
I’m a mental health services researcher at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. I focus on increasing the availability of social supports and improving the efficacy of mental health treatment options for veterans and their families. Last year I had the opportunity to study the Texas-funded Military Veteran Peer Network, a statewide program that provides peer-to-peer support in 37 communities.
My research supports the idea that veterans are an important resource who can be trained to support fellow veterans in need. What’s more, I’ve learned that civilian care for veterans can be improved when civilians are trained in military culture. The MVPN offers military-informed care training to civilian providers and law enforcement personnel throughout the state.
The Wall That Heals, a half-scale version of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., travels to communities across the U.S. so veterans, families and friends can connect with their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War. (Photo via DoD
Understanding the need
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another well-known concern. Estimates of the prevalence of PTSD vary widely due to the variety of study samples and assessment tools. A conservative measure suggests PTSD affects eight percent of service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Veteran peer support shows promise in addressing these common mental health issues. An example is the Vet to Vet program, a VA program developed by Moe Armstrong, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, in 2002. Research has shown that veterans who receive peer support have greater levels of empowerment and confidence, improved functioning and reduced alcohol use compared to those who didn’t receive peer support.
Researchers are increasingly understanding the value of incorporating veteran peers into health care teams. Given the large numbers of veterans returning from prolonged combat, the documented shortage of trained behavioral health providers to treat mental health problems, overly long wait times for treatment and stigma felt by veterans regarding seeking help, veteran peer support offers great promise in improving treatment outcomes.
While peer counseling is not new – it was formally recognized in the 1970s – its value in treating veterans has gained recognition since President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, which was released in 2003.
President Barack Obama has also seen the value of peer support. His Executive Order 13625 of 2012 sought to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families by including the hiring of peer specialists. As of 2015, the hiring of peer specialists has exceeded the goal set in the executive order. In 2015, President Obama renewed his support by calling for more peer support as part of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.
Research on the role of veteran peers has shown their positive impact in assisting homeless veterans to transition to housing.
There is early evidence that veterans charged with misdemeanors and arraigned in Veteran Treatment Courts receive invaluable support from veteran peers throughout their probation and treatment for mental health, substance use problems and receive help with housing, transportation and employment.
These are two among many other areas that veteran peers are providing effective supports.
U.S. Battle of the Bulge veterans salute the national colors during a "Spirit of '45 Day," ceremony at Williamsburg Memorial Park, Va., Aug. 16, 2015. During the battle, some 500,000 troops fought through snow and bitter winter conditions; facing down bullets and German tanks. The U.S. won the battle, but 76,000 Americans were killed, wounded, or missing in action.Photo via DoD
Getting civilians into the act
The mental health care provided by civilians for veterans can also benefit from lessons learned from these veteran-driven programs.
Understanding the unique culture shared by military members and their families can be a daunting task for Americans who have not experienced the military lifestyle. Given the volunteer nature of our armed services and the historically small size of our current force, this culture is familiar to only a small proportion of American citizens. Instead of assuming this cultural gap cannot be breached, we are learning the powerful impact that civilian health care professionals can make when they become trained in military culture and practice military-informed care.
Research efforts are underway to understand how to best train practitioners to better understand the clinical impact of this cultural competency. Research can assess, for example, whether this knowledge can help improve veterans’ engagement in care, increase their treatment completion and improve their clinical outcomes.
The VA has hired 800 peers as of 2013 with 100 more planned annually. In addition to Texas, New York, Michigan and California, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, have veteran peer support programs.
Although most of us can never truly understand what war is like, we can honor all veterans, including those who didn’t make it home, by valuing the special knowledge and connection that veterans bring to bear in therapeutic care settings. By prioritizing veterans’ experiences and knowledge, we can build a society that promotes real healing and a respectful homecoming.
'It just happened' — the Iraq War’s first living Medal of Honor recipient recalls his harrowing fight against 5 insurgents
On Nov, 10, 2004, Army Staff Sgt. David Bellavia knew that he stood a good chance of dying as he tried to save his squad.
Bellavia survived the intense enemy fire and went on to single-handedly kill five insurgents as he cleared a three-story house in Fallujah during the iconic battle for the city. For his bravery that day, President Trump will present Bellavia with the Medal of Honor on Tuesday, making him the first living Iraq war veteran to receive the award.
In an interview with Task & Purpose, Bellavia recalled that the house where he fought insurgents was dark and filled with putrid water that flowed from broken pipes. The battle itself was an assault on his senses: The stench from the water, the darkness inside the home, and the sounds of footsteps that seemed to envelope him.
With the Imperial Japanese Army hot on his heels, Oscar Leonard says he barely slipped away from getting caught in the grueling Bataan Death March in 1942 by jumping into a choppy bay in the dark of the night, clinging to a log and paddling to the Allied-fortified island of Corregidor.
After many weeks of fighting there and at Mindanao, he was finally captured by the Japanese and spent the next several years languishing under brutal conditions in Filipino and Japanese World War II POW camps.
Now, having just turned 100 years old, the Antioch resident has been recognized for his 42-month ordeal as a prisoner of war, thanks to the efforts of his friends at the Brentwood VFW Post #10789 and Congressman Jerry McNerney.
McNerney, Brentwood VFW Commander Steve Todd and Junior Vice Commander John Bradley helped obtain a POW award after doing research and requesting records to surprise Leonard during a birthday party last month.
Hundreds of Marines will join their British counterparts at a massive urban training center this summer that will test the leathernecks' ability to fight a tech-savvy enemy in a crowded city filled with innocent civilians.
The North Carolina-based Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, will test drones, robots and other high-tech equipment at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center near Butlerville, Indiana, in August.
They'll spend weeks weaving through underground tunnels and simulating fires in a mock packed downtown city center. They'll also face off against their peers, who will be equipped with off-the-shelf drones and other gadgets the enemy is now easily able to bring to the fight.
It's the start of a four-year effort, known as Project Metropolis, that leaders say will transform the way Marines train for urban battles. The effort is being led by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, based in Quantico, Virginia. It comes after service leaders identified a troubling problem following nearly two decades of war in the Middle East: adversaries have been studying their tactics and weaknesses, and now they know how to exploit them.
WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) - President Donald Trump imposed new U.S. sanctions onIran on Monday following Tehran's downing of an unmanned American drone and said the measures would target Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Trump told reporters he was signing an executive order for the sanctions amid tensions between the United States and Iran that have grown since May, when Washington ordered all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil.
Trump also said the sanctions would have been imposed regardless of the incident over the drone. He said the supreme leaders was ultimately responsible for what Trump called "the hostile conduct of the regime."
"Sanctions imposed through the executive order ... will deny the Supreme Leader and the Supreme Leader's office, and those closely affiliated with him and the office, access to key financial resources and support," Trump said.
While it can be difficult to peg down just how star-spangled a state is, one indicator is the rate at which citizens enlist in the military, especially during the United States' longest period of sustained conflict. At least, that's the thinking behind WalletHub's new study, 2019's Most Patriotic States in America.