Veteran's Day 2021: Moving from Crisis to Continuum

Moving from Crisis to Continuum: Nurturing Veteran Well-being

As a graduate student researcher and practitioner in clinical psychology, discussions about how to meet the unique mental health needs of veterans and service members arise frequently. However, these conversations often center on responding to crisis situations, rather than envisioning how we might prevent them. I believe that by understanding what veteran mental health looks like across a continuum, we can better understand how to support veteran well-being.

We know that about 1 in 5 veterans experience mental health concerns, and multiple stakeholders are involved in veteran mental health care, including the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), communities, and families. Thus, it is important to consider how each of these networks can be strengthened to support veteran mental health across the spectrum.

The VA’s Whole Health initiative offers a more progressive way of considering veteran health and well-being by focusing on “what matters to you, not what is the matter with you.” Taking a more holistic approach to health care, Whole Health emphasizes mindfulness, self-care, networks of support, and community, while promoting veterans’ values-based goals for health. Although the Whole Health program is still developing and being integrated into usual veteran care, I believe it represents an important shift to a more comprehensive view of veteran mental health and well-being. Yet, the VA only represents one entity involved in supporting veteran well-being— veterans’ families and communities must also be considered in the promotion of their health.

The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry’s special issue focusing on how to involve and support communities and families of service members as they face the unique challenges of reintegrating into civilian life, provides some important considerations. The issue discusses ways we might “enhance the capacity of families’ natural settings”, such as neighborhood, schools, and other communities of meaning, such as veteran support groups, while recognizing the importance of multi-level, cross-context interventions. Researchers emphasize strategies such as “focusing on the accessibility, integration, and coordination of services; considering the long-view and developing strategies for longer-term support; developing mechanisms for family support; and evaluating efforts to address needs of families and promote family resilience.” However, I believe a major part of this change involves supporting veterans and their families by increasing the availability and accessibility to mental health care.

Most mental health care providers know that there is dire need for expansion of mental health services for veterans, but we need treatments that not only address symptoms, but also endeavor to nurture mental health and well-being before, during, and after military service. Although some legislation has been passed to provide mental health care during the reintegration process, provision of services before and throughout service are lacking, leaving service members vulnerable during critical points of intervention. As a future provider, I worry that existing support may not be enough to meet the growing needs of our veteran population, while access to care remains a significant barrier.

With approximately 18 million veterans and 2.1 million active duty service members in the U.S., it is imperative that we start dedicating more consideration to empowering veterans to thrive, rather than just survive. It is time that we truly focus on these conversations about how veteran well-being can be cultivated and sustained, and work on developing policies, practices, and communities that can better support the mental health of our past and present service members.

Learn more about the Global Alliance’s past work focusing on veterans and military services members here, and check out our recent podcast on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on veteran mental health and well-being.





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