The coronavirus pandemic has created mental health challenges for many people, including veterans who must contend with isolation and limited access to therapy. A recent survey of Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) veterans found that about 60 percent of respondents felt disconnected from their communities as well as friends and family members.
Half of the surveyed individuals felt that their mental health had deteriorated as a result of social distancing. The survey included more than 28,280 veterans from the post-9/11 era. Altogether, 30 percent of individuals surveyed reported having suicidal thoughts in the past two weeks. These is about the same number of people who said they had difficulty access mental health care.
Access to care has become an significant issue for veterans. Many people receive mental health services through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, VA facilities across the country have limited inpatient care for mental health to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Between the middle of March and the beginning of May, 7.3 million appointments at VA centers were canceled. Another 4 million were canceled prior to the middle of June. Many of these appointments were rescheduled or made virtual. However, millions of people still have not received care from those canceled appointments. Others may face setbacks due to delays in care.
WWP Launches New Suicide Awareness Training Opportunity
For its part, WWP has made suicide prevention among veterans a critical component of its overall priorities. During the pandemic, the organization has seen an uptick in the number of veterans using its mental health services largely because of an increased focus on digital treatment.
WWP officials note that participation in events increased dramatically when everything went virtual. This is particularly the case among female veterans, which was an unexpected finding. Still, much work remains to be done to meet the need of veterans. In the survey mentioned above, more than 80 percent of respondents reported mental health symptoms.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and WWP used this event to increase its capacity to provide support and treatment. WWP launched initiatives to help train veterans, families, and other people in contact with them to recognize the signs of suicidal ideation and address them in a direct and effective manner.
The online training gives individuals specific tools to use during interventions and helps make people feel comfortable getting individuals in crisis to a safe place. Developed in collaboration with Living Works, the training takes only an hour and can make individuals feel much more comfortable broaching the topic of mental health with loved ones. The major goal of the training is making conversations about suicidality easier for veterans and their loved ones.
Phone-Based Mental Health Support with WWP Talk
In addition to training people to address the issue of suicidality in veterans, WWP also provides a range of services to help individuals facing crisis. One of the organization’s key services is WWP Talk. The free support line connects people to counselors who can help them work through emotions, develop coping skills, and create a practical plan for working toward both short- and long-term goals.
The counselors who help veterans provide a safe, judgment-free zone for exploring emotions. During the initial call, a counselor will tend to initial emotional needs. However, the most important aspect of the program is continuity. Counselors will schedule a specific time and day for checking in each week. These check-in calls take only about 20 minutes, but they help veterans address key issues and develop important coping skills.
Importantly, WWP Talk is available to all veterans who belong to the organization as well as their family members and caregivers. The program is available at no cost to participants. Most people participate in the program for about six months, although the schedule is customized according to the needs of each participant so the actual length can vary.
WWP Talk is not a replacement for clinical treatment or counseling. However, it can serve as an important adjunct to these services and offer another form of support for people facing mental health challenges. Individuals who need clinical support can find a list of verified, third-party resources through WWP. These resources have been vetted to meet the specific needs of veterans and their loved ones.
Other Mental Health Resources Offered through WWP
WWP maintains a number of programs designed to meet the needs of veterans experiencing mental health concerns. Individuals in an emergent situation can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and then press 1. This service is tailored for individuals in immediate crisis.
WWP also manages the Warrior Care Network, which consists of four national academic medical centers that provide world-class mental health services for veterans and their loved ones. Members of WWP can access telemedicine services through this network to address delete mental health problems.
Another unique program WWP offers is Project Odyssey, a multiday adventure that includes trained counselors and fellow veterans. You can access the full range of mental health resources online at WoundedWarriorProject.org.