I am proud to say I am a former member of the United States Air Force. And, like many young men in America of my generation, this military experience played an important role in instilling in me a sense of character, discipline, camaraderie and respect that has served me my entire life. So, if you are reading this on Friday, Nov. 11, I hope you will join me in saluting and recognizing the more than 21 million veterans of military service currently among us in this country. Let us use this occasion – Veterans Day 2016 – not merely to celebrate, but to maximize our commitment as a nation to ensure that service members, veterans and their families have full access to the opportunities, resources, and support they have so clearly earned. In exchange for their service and sacrifice, let us commit to also fulfilling the covenant this nation entered into with these men and women to heal, restore and reinstate them to their proper place in our society; to realign them with their fundamental and inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.
"We want to be sure that we're paying attention and that we're connected to our veterans; that they're connected to support services and health care," says Kathryn Power. Power is a regional administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a little-known government agency (working under the federal Department of Health and Human Services) tasked with trying to fill the gap in veteran care by getting community agencies more attuned to the special support services and health care issues that can follow military service.
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Many military retirees and veterans don't live in locations where they can access military or VA treatment facilities. Among this group are approximately 500,000 men and women of the Reserve Components and National Guard, many of whom served in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. These service members typically return to their previous sources of health care after being released from active duty assignments, never utilizing the services to which they are entitled. It has long ago been accepted that anyone who has been in combat will sustain the effects of that traumatic experience, whether they have visible physical injuries or not. Many of our neighbors are not getting the post-service care they need from health care providers simply because their providers don't know that they are veterans or how to optimally communicate with them once they do know.
To address such issues and to aid in identifying those eligible for care, as well as the level of care they may need, the American Academy of Nursing, among others, has recently adopted a new approach. Rather than asking, "Are you a veteran?" many health care professionals are now routinely asking: "Have you ever served in the military?" of any individual seeking health care.
This protocol is part of the federal Joining Forces Initiative which began in 2011. Joining Forces is a program designed to work hand in hand with the public and private sector to ensure that service members, veterans, and their families have the tools they need to heal and succeed. The question is designed to elicit a response that will assist providers in delving into military service risk factors, signs and symptoms, as well as treatment procedures and rehabilitation options. Without this knowledge, health care professionals can miss an opportunity to address the health care issues that veterans, as opposed to the general public, deal with on a daily basis.
A major challenge faced by veterans continues to be trying to cope with what is suppressed and hidden. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the persistent stigma linked to mental health counseling has resulted in little progress being made in addressing these health issues. The stigma attached to mental health remains pervasive in our country. Many veterans don't seek help when needed. As reported earlier this year, of combat veterans returning home after serving our country, as many as 30 percent struggle with mental health issues in which symptoms often worsen after they leave the structure and comradery of military life and hospital treatment to then begin reintegration back into civilian life. A recent study suggests that veterans may be more likely to commit suicide during the first year after they leave the military than after more time passes. Though veterans make up only about 8.5 percent of the population, today they account for 18 percent of all suicides in the United States.
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To successfully address these issues, communities and local health organizations must become a substantial part of the solution.
In addition to the shifting focus toward community care, there is also a growing grassroots movement seeking ways beyond conventional treatment programs to manage military deployment stress injuries. Pressure is being applied to the V.A. to better inform veterans of alternative treatments and therapeutic activities now available.
Veterans around the country are also stepping up to join with health care professionals to provides peer-to-peer solutions to help veterans. For example, in Bandera, Texas an organization called Warriors Heat now provides private treatment for chemical dependency and accompanying psychological disorders relating to PTSD, as well as the psychological effects of mild traumatic brain injury, for men and women who are active and veteran members of the military. In this program, senior veterans share their insights with those suffering today.
Our nation's veterans have been there for us in peacetime, war or whenever called upon. The very least we can do is provide them with the best health care possible. For these brave men and women, their mission for our country has been completed; the reality is that our mission as Americans remains far from over.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.