Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Transitioning Veterans
According to the Veterans Administration there are about 721,000 veterans in Illinois. While there is a breadth of governmental, public, and private resources available to those veterans upon leaving the military and transitioning to civilian life, over 50% of veterans nationwide report that they do not know where to go to seek help.
Amidst all of the challenges veterans face upon this transition, arguably the most harmful are those associated with mental health. Rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression have increased in recent years – post-9/11 veterans were more likely to screen positive for PTSD and Depression than pre-9/11 veterans.2 A crucial gap exists during the time of transition. According to “The State of the American Veteran” published by USC School of Social Work, many veterans felt fine mentally upon leaving the military, however, about a month after returning, realized that they had significant issues for which they need help.
During this time period, it is critical that our veterans have a strong support network and can easily access any resources they might need. No matter how severe their mental health problems might be or what specific mental health issues they are facing, a returning veteran must be able to be connected with an organization uniquely capable of best serving them. Currently, this process can be overwhelming, frustrating, and ultimately unsuccessful. A considerable amount (44.1%) of post 9/11 veterans who screened positive for mental health problems did not seek help.2 This is likely due to a combination of mental health stigmatization and significant barriers to care.
There is a myth that most in the military community and veterans obtain healthcare services in closed systems i.e., military medicine or the VA. While the Veterans Health Administration has taken significant steps to address access issues, service gaps continue to exist. Additionally, several studies of civilian community providers have shown that they are not prepared to treat returning veterans with the clinical cultural competence necessary to be sensitive to the unique experience of military service. That’s where Illinois Joining Forces (IJF) comes in. We are the single entry point for veterans transitioning to civilian life, helping them to overcome such barriers and lead the healthy life they so richly deserve. Further, we facilitate the training of providers in Military and Veteran Clinical Cultural Competency through our workshops and advocacy. Additionally, the Behavioral Health Working Group has a number of initiatives underway to address suicide prevention, substance abuse, and access to care.
The road ahead for IJF is exciting. We believe that any veteran returning to Illinois should be able to get the help they need in any of 9 issue areas – one of which is behavioral health. Service members and veterans should not have to go from office to office, form to form, or website to website to be served. This is a systematic problem that demands a local solution, a solution that IJF is bringing to the problem. Through the relationships of our Behavioral Health Working Group members and our online portal, IJF brings focus to comprehensive, long-term case management and follow up with each veteran. We hope that you will join us in creating the strongest possible network of service providers to our Nation’s veterans.
Credits: Tom Miller is the Chairman of the IJF Behavioral Health Working Group
 “Veteran Population.” Va.gov. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014. Web. 02 Dec. 2015. <http://www.va.gov/vetdata/veteran_population.asp>.
 Castro, Carl Andrew, Sara Kintzle, and Anthony Hassan. “THE STATE OF THE AMERICAN VETERAN.”