Happy Veteran's Day
Today, I'm thinking a lot about my dad. My father is a veteran of the Vietnam War and within the past few years has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He's struggled all of his adult life with the symptoms of PTSD but only recently has found out what it's called. Growing up, my dad experienced the mood swings, intrusive thoughts, problem-drinking and nightmares that are hallmarks of a PTSD diagnosis. My mom and I never knew what he was going through because he didn't talk about it, I'm not even sure he knew what he was going through. He didn't know much about mental health or how the war affected him, not completely at least. He knew it was hard and he knew that it messed him up but never had an understanding of the lasting effects. I suspect in a lot of ways this is one of the things that led me to a career in mental health, even though I didn't realize it at the time. I knew that I wanted harmony and I didn't want anybody to suffer.
My dad was and is a good father and I love him very much, but I knew he struggled with a sense of control over his own emotions. And so when he was convinced by another veteran friend to check out the VA, it started his journey toward finally understanding what was happening to him. When he received his diagnosis of PTSD, I was surprised and almost angry at myself for not seeing it sooner. I'm a former therapist, how could I not have seen it? I suppose I was too close to have an unbiased view of what was happening. More than that, I think my family felt a strange sense of relief that this thing finally had a name.
As much as our country says it values our veterans, there are so many out there struggling. The lasting mental health effects of serving can be more than a lot can deal with. The transition back to civilian life in and of itself can be too much for some. I hope we are able to do better for these men and women in the future, but there are many resources that are available now.
The Veteran's Crisis Line is a 24/7 resource for active-duty and veterans who are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. Their number is 1-800-273-8255
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has an extensive resource list for veterans and families of veterans
The Real Warriors Campaign promotes psychological support to the military community
The VA's My HealtheVet is a hub for treatment of veterans and can be a good access point for vets seeking help
Military OneSource is the Dept of Defense's information with a ton of resources for vets seeking assistance
Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based training that teaches skills around helping deal with mental health and substance use issues
I'm happy to say that my dad is receiving regular mental health services from the VA and is overall feeling better than he maybe ever has before in his life. He still has hard days and can struggle with it, but he's found camaraderie in other veterans and is an active member of the veteran's committee in his local Elks lodge. Just the other day, he volunteered his time to feed homeless vets for Veteran's Day. I'm unbelievably proud of my dad for being so brave in the face of this and doing what he needs to do to take care of himself. Love you, dad. Thank you for your service.
If you or someone you know is a veteran in need of help, call the Veteran's Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255