Local Focus on Veteran Mental Health

A new report says local governments need to reach out more to veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to make sure they're getting the help they need to treat the mental illnesses that some of them bring back from the combat zone. David Pitman reports.

The Houston area is home to more than 200- thousand veterans of military service, one of the largest groups of its kind in the nation.  It's also a popular destination for vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Research has shown about 20 percent of those veterans meet the criteria for depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  However, only half of them have received adequate mental health care.

Betsy Schwartz is the President and CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston.  She says the stigma attached to mental illness that keeps some civilians from asking for help is even more pronounced among vets who've seen combat.

"Yet, it's because of that that we have to be really mindful of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or suicide and depression"

Schwartz says the consequences of untreated mental illness among soldiers can be devastating.  She illustrates this with a national statistic.

"In the first six months of this year, 2009, 129 soldiers committed suicide, which is actually more than the number of soldiers who died in combat.    That's a pretty profound reality."

And Schwartz says there's needs to be more reaching out to veterans at the 'local' level.  That's also the point of  The Veterans Behavior Health Initiative.  It's a new report that Schwartz, and several other experts on mental health and veterans issues, worked on at the request of Houston Mayor Bill White and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.   

Schwartz says there needs to be a greater focus on what's known as "integrated health care" — treating the minds and bodies of veterans as one.

"We also know that a major best practice is that military and their families can be helped very effectively by peers.  They can relate much easier to someone who really has been there and understand what they're coping with.  So several of our reccomendations are attempting to build on integrating care, and improving the support service access."

There are no solid estimates on what these, and other, recommendations would cost.  The City of Houston says it will pursue all private and federal funding it can find, so implementing the ideas in the report won't put an extra burden on the city's budget.

David Pitman. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

 

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...