Veteran Traumas and how best to Help

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After applying for DD214 online and receiving the document, it could be easy to think that the veteran has left everything to do with their service behind.

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Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Many veterans suffer with mental illness after returning from duty and this affects everyone, including the service members and their families.

It is entirely possible that some people may not experience some of these symptoms until a few years after leaving the armed forces. They may also delay seeking help for several reasons, such as thinking that they can cope, fear of criticism or feeling that therapists will not understand.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is perhaps the most infamous mental health problem veterans face after returning from duty.

Symptoms can include:

  • being constantly anxious
  • being unable to relax
  • vividly re-experiencing a traumatic event
  • avoiding anything that might trigger distressing memories or feelings
  • becoming socially isolated

PTSD can lead to problems in relationships and at work, including irritability, anger and substance misuse, particularly alcohol.

While some symptoms, such as nightmares, are normal in the weeks following a traumatic event, symptoms that last longer than this can indicate a problem.

Should this happen, it’s important to seek the advice of a doctor as soon as possible. Bring to their attention any health problems relating to time in the armed forces.

Risk for veterans

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There are an estimated 5 million veterans in the UK, and a further 20,000 personnel leave the forces each year. When staff leave HM Forces, their healthcare transfers from the military to the NHS. Only around 0.1% of regular service personnel are discharged annually for mental health reasons. However, some veterans develop mental health problems after leaving service, many of whom will be experiencing PTSD.

Until recently, little was known about these veterans. What is known is that only half of those experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialist mental health services.

Veterans’ mental health problems may be made worse or caused by post-service factors, such as the difficulty in making the transition to civilian life, marital problems, and loss of family and social support networks.

Younger veterans are at high risk of suicide in the first two years after leaving service. Ex-service personnel are also vulnerable to social exclusion and homelessness, both of which are risk factors for mental ill health. Alcohol misuse is also high.

Support and treatment

If a veteran is showing any signs of the above symptoms after returning from service, it is worth looking at getting professional help.

In the UK, the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Transition, Intervention and Liaison Service (TLS) or the NHS Veterans’ Mental Health Complex Treatment Service (CTS) are services across the country who specialise in PTSD and mental health issues in the armed forces.

They will also help to manage care and support across other organisations. Families and carers can find it hard to cope when their loved ones are not well so, where appropriate, help may be provided to them too.

The MoD and NHS are also running six Veterans Mental Health pilot projects across the UK. The aim of these projects is to increase knowledge and understanding of veterans’ mental health needs among mainstream NHS staff, to improve access to mainstream NHS services.

The projects provide treatment and referrals to community mental health services, social services and specialist assessment and treatment elsewhere, including the residential centres run by the voluntary sector veterans’ support organisation Combat Stress.

Each project has a community veterans mental health therapist and the projects also have links with local veterans’ organisations to reach out to people who may need help.

Britain leads first ever European conference on veterans’ mental health

Mental health in veterans is now becoming a major topic for governments.

According to the government’s website, ministers and senior military officials from six European countries have gathered in London to discuss mental health issues affecting veterans.

The conference, the first meeting of its kind, saw Ministers and military officials from six NATO countries share best practice on veterans’ issues and discuss how nations can further mental health support for former service personnel.

Minister for Defence People and Veterans Tobias Ellwood said:“In order to recruit the next generation of soldiers, sailors and airmen and women, we need to show that we look after our service personnel and veterans.

Britain is not unique in facing this challenge. That’s why it’s vital that we discuss these issues and share best practice with our close European military partners.”