The 20-year war in Afghanistan is finally over, and we sincerely thank our war veterans for their service. Yet, war may not be over for all of them, even after they leave the military. Trauma related to the stresses of deployment and the unique culture of the military often continues and is associated with alcohol, drug, and mental health issues.
Deployment itself has behavioral health risks — studies show that it’s correlated with the initiation of smoking, binge drinking, drug use and other risky behaviors. Military zero-tolerance policies, lack of confidentiality, and mandatory random drug testing can create treatment barriers related to stigma – discouraging many soldiers who need help from seeking it. For example, half of military personnel have reported that they believe seeking help for mental health issues would negatively affect their military career.
After active duty personnel leave service, substance use and mental health issues can be fueled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or trauma. In fact, the diagnosis of PTSD originates from observations of the effect of combat on soldiers which were originally described as “combat fatigue,” “shell shock,” or “war neurosis”. Today, between 11-20% of veterans suffer trauma related to deployment; 23% of female vets reported traumatic sexual assault when in the military, and 55% of women and 38% of men experienced sexual harassment in the military.
As a result, veterans can have high rates of alcohol and drug misuse or self-medication — a risky form of self-treatment for trauma. The veteran population is also impacted by critical issues related to substance use and trauma, such as pain, depression, anxiety, and homelessness. Sadly, veterans have a suicide rate that is 50% higher than for people who have not served. Shockingly, there has been an 86% increase in the suicide rate among 18-to-34-year-old male veterans since 2006. For veterans in the LGBTQ+ community, suicide rates are up to 7x higher than for non-LGBTQ+ veterans.
Don’t let a vet suffer alone. Give them the number of the Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255. L.A. CADA can help with a range of behavioral health services. Call us at (562) 906-2676