Legion: Mental health care 'stakes could not be higher'

Since June, more than 1,800 veterans have received some form of help from American Legion Veterans Crisis Command Centers in Phoenix, El Paso, Texas, and Fayetteville, N.C. Through these centers, some of those veterans now have or soon will have access to Department of Veterans Affairs mental health care. More such centers are scheduled in the coming weeks at other locations.

That’s a start toward a solution for what The American Legion’s Warren Goldstein referred to as a mental health crisis. But, Goldstein told the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on July 10, much more needs to be done.

“By the time this panel finishes our opening remarks, America will have lost another person to suicide,” Goldstein testified. “That is a terrible tragedy. We all have to work together to ensure that this rate cannot and will not continue.”

Goldstein, the Legion’s assistant director for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder programs, said that there are 82 suicides in the United States each day. Of those, 26 percent are veterans – despite the fact veterans make up only 7 percent of the population.

“The stakes could not be higher,” Goldstein said. “We must find a solution to this problem.”

During the hearing, titled “Service should not lead to suicide: Access to VA’s Mental Health Care,” the committee heard about personal experiences from retired Army Sgt. Josh Renschler, and heart-breaking stories from the families of servicemembers who’ve taken their own lives,. VA personnel and other veterans and military service organizations also ptestified.

While Goldstein said that access to mental health care is critical to reducing the suicide rate, it’s not the only answer. He referenced the recently released results of a Legion- Data Recognition Corporation TBI-PTSD study that showed that nearly a third of veterans surveyed had terminated their treatment plans before completion, and that almost 60 percent of veterans reported “no improvement” or “feeling worse” after having undergone treatment.

The results of the study were released during the Legion’s June 24 TBI-PTSD symposium where public- and private-sector experts discussed TBI, PTSD, complementary and alternative medicine, and caregivers and family support.

“It’s devastating when a veteran can’t get timely appointments,” Goldstein said. “But 60 percent of veterans reporting no change or worsening symptoms after treatment means that what care they are getting is just as important as whether or not they can access the care in the first place.

“(At the symposium), we listened, and saw, firsthand the encouraging results for veterans who had benefitted from animal therapies with service dogs, art therapies, acupuncture, and a host of other non-traditional solutions. The American Legion believes that by exploring options such as these, we can all work together to help veterans get the effective treatments they need.”

Goldstein pledged the Legion’s commitment to helping remedy the suicide problem among veterans. “There are things VA should be doing to ensure veterans at the end of their rope get the help they need, but we now see that veterans can’t just depend on VA to fix the problem,” he said. “That’s why The American Legion has full-time staff and a leadership committee dedicated to studying the challenges of mental health treatments – to ensure the way America treats veterans is a way that will bring real improvement to their lives.

“And that’s why Legionnaires, veterans, VA and local businesses across the country are supporting our Veterans Crisis Command Centers and donating their time and effort to help link veterans with the resources they need.”

Goldstein also submitted written testimony to the committee, in which he provided greater details on what the Legion has learned while manning its Veterans Crisis Command Centers. To read the testimony, click here.