Veterans Day: Caring for Military Members and their Mental Health

Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 8:00pm

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, fighting of “The Great War” ceased between the Allied nations and Germany. A year later, President Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day, later known as Veterans Day, in recognition of the heroism of those who died. Unfortunately, wars continue, and the costs of human lives – both lost during war, and the emotional impacts of surviving those conflicts – also continue.

Alison R. Coelho, PsyDWe spoke with Alison R. Coelho, PsyD, about specific challenges that veterans and active duty service members face and how the Banner – University Medical Center’s Military Outpatient Psychiatry Services provides the highest quality mental health treatment to active duty service members and veterans, while being mindful of the unique cultural aspects of military service.

What are some of the unique mental health challenges that veterans and active duty service members face?

One of the many mental health challenges that are unique to veterans and active duty service members is that they are far more likely to be exposed to adverse environments than the average population because of the nature of their jobs. As such, this often creates a delicate balance between maintaining their mental and physical health while also excelling in their chosen life and career paths.

For our active duty service members specifically, issues that frequently affect them and their families is deployment preparation and return. Most families have to adjust to a service member leaving the family system for a period of time and then reintegrating them back into a system that has changed while they were away. At the same time, the service member might be processing things they may have encountered while on deployment. As you can see, the moving pieces can be rather complicated. In addition, like most of us, our active duty service members are also struggling to navigate a COVID-19 world while maintaining their missions.

For our veterans, the military may have once provided a safe haven to manage their health and wellbeing. For many, access to care is limited once they are out of the service. Given the high burden on the VA system, veterans often find themselves reaching out for help with limited resources providing support. This is one of the main reasons we at Banner Health strive to include veterans and dependents in our Military Outpatient Psychiatry Services, so we can support the Mission 22 initiatives and reduce suicide rates for our veterans, while providing the highest quality mental health care.

Do those challenges only affect service members who have experienced combat?

No, these challenges are experienced by service members across the branches and jobs titles or descriptions. The very nature of military service includes experiencing adverse situations. The constant need to be prepared, drop everything in a minute, and report for duty can be extremely taxing of an individual and a family system. Those that have experienced combat typically experience usual life stressors as I mentioned above, that are compounded with significant trauma they might have been exposed while in a combat environment.

What are some of the mental health impacts of military service, and what are the treatment options that the Banner provides?

Some of the most common mental health complaints from military service members includes things like adjustment issues, anxiety, depression, interpersonal conflict, PTSD, parenting and martial support.

Banner currently provides both psychotherapeutic and pharmacological interventions for active duty service members and veterans. For active duty service members and veterans who are experiencing symptoms of trauma, acute stress or PTSD, we also offer a specialized treatment protocol (Cognitive Processing Therapy - CPT), one of the three the gold standards for treating trauma and PTSD.

What are the important considerations that therapists face when treating veterans and active duty members, insofar as being mindful of the intricacies of military service?

The main consideration that providers face when treating the active service duty and veteran population is really getting a concrete understanding of how the military system works. Due to the sensitive nature of some of jobs, there are certain diagnoses, treatments, or even medications that are not ideal of this population as these can have a significant impact to their careers, be that of active duty service members or even government employees. Another important consideration is understanding the way of life for service members and role that health care plays in a military system.

For veterans specifically, helping them adjust to a civilian life is also a crucial aspect of their transition and these issues can come up whether they are one week out of service or years later. Connecting veterans with access to care that is affordable and high quality is an ongoing goal for us at Banner Health.