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Larry Dandridge

About VA Mental Health Services

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Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four articles.

By Larry Dandridge

On Jan. 12, 2022, The Island News was kind enough to publish my first article about VA Mental Health Services. That article advised military members, veterans, and their families and caregivers to read the information at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs VA Mental Health Services website https://bit.ly/3tjai3J.

That first article, which can be read online at https://bit.ly/39lqf1O, provided my personal story about the successful PTSD treatment the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center gave me. It also told readers how a veteran in crisis or concerned about another veteran can connect with a qualified Veteran Crisis Responder or get help? The answer is repeated here:

Question 1 – How to get immediate Mental health care anytime day or night?

– Call the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (24/7).

– Text the VA’s Veterans Crisis line at 838255.

– If you have hearing loss, call 800-799-4899.

– Go to your nearest VA medical center. It does not matter what your discharge status is or if you are enrolled in VA health care.

– Call the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s main number at 843-577-5011 or the Mental Health Clinic at 843-789-7311.

– Call 911.

– Go to the nearest emergency room.

You may ask why am I writing more about VA Mental Health Services? The answer to that is simple, I am writing more about this subject for the following five reasons:

1. Veterans with mental health challenges, who are fortunate enough to obtain VA Mental Health Services, will most likely have a much better chance of a successful marriage and career, longer and happier life, and learn that mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and PTSD can be treated successfully treated and controlled.

2. Mental health is a life-and-death situation. Veterans with mental health challenges, who are fortunate enough to obtain VA Mental Health Services, will most likely have a much better chance of avoiding illegal substance abuse, avoiding alcoholism, avoiding abusing their families (parents, spouses, children, and pets), avoiding homelessness, avoiding running afoul with our legal system, and avoiding becoming suicidal.

3. Sexual assault, death of loved ones, the repeated threat of death or serious injury, fratricide, Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs), divorce, chronic pain, serious accidents, the repeated subjection to loud noise (gunfire, artillery, bombs, missiles, etc.), what a service member does in war, the politics around the war, and other traumatic events take a heavy toll on military members, veterans, and their families – and the readiness of our military.

4. Last month (May) was National Mental Health Awareness Month. In May many Americans learned that in the U.S. general population there is a national mental health crisis caused by a severe shortage of behavioral health-trained providers. Over one-third of Americans live in designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, areas that have fewer mental health providers than the minimum their population would need. The historical challenges in recruiting and retaining these and other essential health workers have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Read online more about the National Mental Health challenges and initiatives in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Fact Sheet dated May 3, 2022, at https://bit.ly/3zB8mXb.

5. Veterans are fortunate that the VA has the staffing of highly qualified mental health professionals and facilities to serve every needy veteran. The VA is currently and successfully providing mental health care to one of this author’s best friends and fellow Vietnam War buddies and one of my closest family members who served during the wars in South West Asia.

The next three articles on VA mental health services will provide answers to the following 30 questions and more:

1. How to get immediate Mental health care anytime day or night?

2. How to get VA Mental health care online?

3. How to speak to a fellow veteran who has been through mental health problems and VA Mental health care?

4. Are such mental health conditions as PTSD, sexual trauma, depression, grief, anxiety, and other mental health problems treated by the VA?

5. Will using mental health services at VA put my career at risk?

6. What kind of mental health services does the VA provide?

7. Does the VA offer mental health help for family, friends, and caregivers of veterans?

8. What are the mental health resources outside of the VA for vets and service members?

9. How do I get a copy of the VA’s new Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Handbook?

10. How do I get a copy of the Federal Benefits for Vets, Dependents, & Survivors Booklet?

11. How do I get a copy of the VA’s National Resource Directory?

12. What free smartphone applications can I use to help manage my physical and mental health and help me deal with stress, quit smoking, and more?

13. What is the VA telehealth program?

14. I’m in the National Guard or Reserves. Am I eligible to use VA mental health services?

15. How long will it take for me to start getting help once I contact VA?

16. What mental health problems does VA treat?

17. What kinds of mental health services does VA provide?

18. Does VA offer mental health resources for family, friends, and caregivers of Veterans?

19. How do I find my closest VA health facility?

20. How can I search online and find local VA Resources?

21. What are the signs of a health crisis?

22. Can I get connected with mental health care – no matter what my discharge status, service history, or eligibility for VA health care?

23. Is it true that more than half of the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day have never sought VA mental health care?

24. Are too many mentally ill persons getting through recruiting and enlistment screening?

25. Is combat trauma the only kind of trauma treated by the VA?

26. What are the warning signs of a mental health crisis?

27. Where can a veteran read about PTSD and VA PTSD treatment?

28. Is it true that Vietnam Veterans have the highest lifetime prevalence of PTSD, followed by Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Gulf War?

29. Is it true that among Veterans who use VA health care, about 23 out of 100 women (or 23%) reported sexual assault when in the military and 55 out of 100 women (or 55%) and 38 out of 100 men (or 38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military?

30. Is the military doing enough to screen recruits for mental illness to ensure that they are healthy enough to train and serve and are they healthy enough that the high stress of military life will not worsen their mental health to the point they go AWOL, desert, or commit some crime?

Question 2

Where can I read online about the VA’s world-class mental health care?

Veterans and military members, and their families, caregivers, and survivors should go to the VA’s Health Benefits Page (Mental Health Care) page at https://bit.ly/2IuOFTz and read the information therein. The VA provides specialty inpatient and outpatient mental health services at its medical centers and community-based outpatient clinics (in addition, readjustment counseling services may be available for you and members of your family at Vet Centers across the nation). The VA’s goal is to support recovery and enable veterans who experience mental health problems to live meaningful lives in their communities and achieve their full potential.

The VA provides cost-free military sexual trauma counseling and referral, including appropriate care and services. Mental health services are available in specialty clinics, primary care clinics, nursing homes, and residential care facilities. Specialized programs, such as mental health intensive case management, day centers, work programs, and psychosocial rehabilitation are provided for those with serious mental health problems.

Question 3

What VA mental health services and programs does the VA provide to veterans?

The list of services and programs that Mental Health supports include: Inpatient Care, Residential Care, Outpatient Mental Health Care, Homeless Programs, Programs for Incarcerated Veterans, Specialized PTSD Services, Military Sexual Trauma, Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Services, Substance Use Disorders, Suicide Prevention Programs, Geriatrics, Violence Prevention, Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Programs, and Mental Health Disaster Response/Post Deployment Activities.

Next week’s article will answer more questions about VA mental health services and programs. It will also encourage military members, veterans, their families, and caregivers to take full advantage of their VA (and DOD) mental health benefits.

Please share this information with military members, veterans, and their families and survivors. You can read copies of Larry Dandridge’s past articles at www.yourislandnews.com.

Larry Dandridge is a Vietnam War wounded warrior, disabled veteran, ex-Enlisted Infantryman, ex-Warrant Officer Pilot, and retired Lt. Colonel. He is a past Veterans Service Officer, a Patient Adviser at the RHJ VA Hospital, the Fisher House Charleston Good Will Ambassador, and the VP for Veteran Affairs for the local Army Association Chapter. Larry is the author of the award-winning book Blades of Thunder and a contributing free-lance writer with the Island News. Contact him at LDandridge@earthlink.net or 843-276-7164.

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