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  • Writer's pictureColonel Ben Findley

Mental Health, Veterans, Firearms, and Your Help

by Col./Dr. Ben Findley

 

Jumper Suicide in Texas


More than four in five organizations (88%) believe all workers are more stressed than they were just two years ago, according to Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Benefits: 2021 Survey Results. Here are some of the Study results. Note that some conditions and barriers exist more than once and are treatable.


Prevalent Mental Health Conditions

· Depression (53%),

· Anxiety Disorders (48%),

· Sleep Deprivation (32%),

· Alcohol Addition (22%),

· Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (20%),

· Prescription Drug Addiction (19%),

· Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (18%), and

· Non-Prescription Drug Addiction (17%).


Barriers to Treating Mental Health Conditions

· Fear about impact on job relations and job security (36%)

· Concern about confidentiality (35%)

· Not ready to address the issue (29%)

· Supervisors fear uncomfortable addressing (28%)

· Breach of individual privacy (25%).


Veterans and Mental Health

The high stress level, long work hours, challenging and quick response times, and frequent life-and-death situations that military members experience have a significant impact on Mental Health. This carries over for veterans when they leave the service. Since the United States was drawn into a global war on terrorism by the attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have made commitments to support the military men and women who have served on the front lines of conflicts, assisting veterans and their families. Today, more do support efforts to aid our troops in uniform or those transitioning out of service, because they are grateful for their great sacrifices made. But, we need to do more. Thank you veterans, past, present, and future for your service. We as citizens will forever be indebted to you for shaping our history and preserving our freedom, liberty, rights, and American way of life. However, many do not truly understand how much our current veterans especially have suffered and are continuing to suffer, with both physical and mental health issues, and meeting basic needs. So, it is important to show your support for those who protect our freedom and rights... not to just recognize the problems, but to take action to help.


Significant Facts About Veterans' Transitioning

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported:


1) Every year, approximately 200,000 military members transition out of active duty service and return to civilian life;

2) Studies indicate that from 44% to 72% (an average of 64%- higher than civilian stress level average) experience high levels of stress during transition from the military to civilian life; and

3) Approximately 5.2 million transitioning veterans experience a behavioral health condition or problem.


Veterans Are Experiencing Physical and Mental Health Problems

A shocking 45% of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have physical and mental health problems requiring treatment. This is more than twice the application rate of service members who served in the Gulf War. But, less than 50% of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment at all for service-connected disabilities, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health. While there are very serious concerns about veterans' physical problems, serious mental health issues also exist. It is sad to learn that our veterans have almost double the civilian suicide rate and that mental health issues are frequent. No wonder considering that regularly, if not daily or hourly, they were being shot at or laying their life on the line for us and our freedom and rights. America's veterans, particularly those with disabilities related to their service, deserve our respect and help with their expensive and urgent physical and mental health conditions and other basic needs.


Veterans' Mental Health Conditions

The Veterans Administration classifies and provides support for a variety of mental health conditions. Here are just some of these conditions and concerns:

· Anxiety

· Depression

· Bipolar Disorder

· Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury- TBI

· Post Traumatic Stress Disorder- PTSD

· Suicide (Prevention)

· Schizophrenia

· Substance Use

· Sexual Trauma

· Tobacco


Psychological Effects in Transitioning

Understanding the military reserve personnel system, I know that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have involved record levels of Reserve and National Guard forces. These troops are typically somewhat older, maybe left an entrenched civilian job for duty, and because of their available circumstances may have more education than the active force. These men and women were usually more fully integrated into civilian life, before leaving for duty. Today's veterans have mostly operated in battle theaters with no front lines and where civilians have been mixed in with combatants. These veterans can more easily identify with civilians, since they were recently civilians. So, this means that they have been more exposed to civilians suffering, death, near-death experiences, and less certainty of their enemies. Anxiety, depression, and mental stressors prevail. This frequent exposure to deadly situations and suffering in combat or combat-related warfare has produced very definite psychological effects and mental health-related concerns for veterans, which dramatically affect transitioning back to civilian life and employment. So, there is an obvious need to target assistance for these veterans who are genuinely struggling with the transition. I'll mention ways you can help veterans below.


Executive Order 13822 Provides Mental Health Resources for Transitioning Veterans

The first year of transition is critical for veterans and service members moving from the military to civilian life. To help with this, President Trump signed Mental Health Executive Order 13822, “Supporting our Veterans During Their Transition from Uniformed Service to Civilian Life” in 2018. This is designed to help eligible veterans and service members in the short run for about one year after their discharge from military service. The Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Service Organizations, Congress, and community organizations are partnering to provide support. There is a need for more intermediate and long-term help.


To emphasize what I said above, less than 50% of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment. There is a reluctance to seek related treatment due to the possible stigma associated with mental issues, confirmation and acceptance of the specific diagnosis, knowledge of what treatments are specifically available and where they are offered, and uncertainty about treatments and costs. But, there are readily-available mental-health treatments that help and usually at moderate to low/no costs to the qualified veteran.


There is a Critical Relationship Between Mental Health Conditions

and Suicide for Veterans and Everyone

Mental health issues and mental illness are major risks for suicides, according to the American Psychological Association. The World Health Organization estimates that 90% of all suicide victims have some kind of mental health condition. And sadly, a very large percentage of these victims are veterans and military members. Veteran suicides are occurring at a rate higher than non-veterans, at about double the suicides. The 2022 research from Policy Research Associates reports 31.7 veteran suicides per 100,000 troops, compared to 16.1 civilian suicides per 100,000. This is staggering data and research shows that these conditions and risks are preventable with our commitment and help. Just one related death is not acceptable.


Caution: Associating mental illness and mental health conditions with violence reinforces stigma and unwarranted fear of people with mental health issues. These people need support to recover from these mental health conditions.


Crucial Mental Health Actions Are Urgently Needed to Help

Our help and actions are urgently needed, more so than just a recognition of the mental health problem for veterans, military members, and civilians. The American Psychological Association gives some research-based conclusions:

· Treatment of mental illnesses can reduce mental health and suicide risks through therapy and medications;

· Easy access to Suicide-Intervention and Mental-Health programs is essential;

· Communities should work toward reducing the stigma and increasing public awareness; and there are existing local, community, and state organizations for doing this.


National Studies About Veterans, Civilians, Mental Health Issues, and Firearms

Veterans understand, own, and use firearms more than the typical civilian, due to their military firearms training, armament and warfare background, exposures to battlefield situations and dangers, defensive equipment understanding, and firearms use. Ponder the type and extent of the relationship between the typical veteran profile and mental health conditions and problems.


We often hear that "mental illness" and those with serious mental conditions are dangerous and cause violence, but an American Association of Medical Colleges report by Rozel and Swanson in January, 2023 disagree. They conclude that most violence is not "causally" linked to mental health issues. Those using a gun in most violent situations is not caused by mental health problems. A 2018 F.B.I. study concludes that even mass shooters, who might seem most likely to be driven by mental illness, do not necessarily suffer from major mental health disorders... and that only 25% of such assailants had a diagnosed mental illness.


The Rand Corporation and Ramchand and Ayer in 2021 report that a major limitation to researching mental health and gun violence is that only approximately half of those with a mental illness have a recognized diagnosis or are undiagnosed. So, they say it is difficult to ascertain mental health prior to violent events with a firearm. Further the Rand Corporation research concludes that the prevalence of mental illness may be lower among those who use a firearm to end their lives. Skeem and Mulvey in their 2020 research conclude that only approximately 20% of mass violence with a gun is committed by a person with a mental health disorder.


A recognized National Firearm Survey by E. Cleveland of a nationally-representative and statistically-valid sample of U.S. veterans reports the prevalence of firearm ownership and the veterans' reasons for firearm ownership. Results indicate that about half of all veterans own one or more firearms, with male veterans more commonly owning firearms than do female veterans. About 70% of veterans say they own a handgun, with over 66.6% of veterans saying they own more than one gun, including 29% who own five or more guns. Most veteran firearm owners own both handguns and long guns.


According to U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs data, there are about 19 million veterans age 18 and older now in the United States, with about 13 million age 50 and older. So, if a veteran has two firearms, then that is 38 million guns on average in existence in the U.S. for veterans. Three firearms owned by veterans means about 57 million guns in the U.S., just for veterans and not counting civilian gun ownership. I know several instructors that own more than 20 firearms each. There are a lot of firearms owned by veterans.


More than half of veterans living in the Southern states own a firearm, about 59%. Prevalence of firearm ownership does not differ substantially by service branch, service era, or use of VA health care services. Study results also show that about 65% of veterans firearm owners report that protection against people is the primary reason for firearm ownership.


Facts that Support Mental Health Actions for Veterans:

1) An average of 64% of veterans experience high levels of stress during transition from the military to civilian life.

2) Approximately 5.2 million transitioning veterans experience a behavioral health condition or problem.

3) Frequent exposure to deadly situations and suffering in combat or combat-related warfare has produced very definite psychological effects and mental health-related concerns among veterans.

4) Veteran suicides are occurring at a higher rate than civilians, at about double the suicides.

5) About 70% of veterans say they own a handgun, with over 66.6% of veterans saying they own more than one gun. The answer is not to take away the veterans' and civilians' guns, but to get them the therapy and medications needed for their mental health issue.

6) Studies conclude that most violence is not "causally" linked to mental health issues. Those using a gun in most violent situations is not caused by mental health problems.

7) Less than 50% of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment at all for service-connected disabilities, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.

8) Treatment of mental illnesses can reduce mental health problems and suicide risks for veterans through therapy and medications.


Win-Win-Win-Win Opportunities for Supporting Veterans and Civilians

There are very many worthwhile and effective organizations that support our veterans and civilian mental and health concerns; too many to even list here. There is a large number of veterans and they have unique needs. But I want to share with you three organizations that I work with and support now and how they help our veterans, particularly with mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, suicides, and PTSD. You may want to volunteer your time or donate to these 501(c)(3) charitable organizations yourself. Believe me there is a Win-Win-Win-Win result for all: the veteran, their family, the charity, and you for your participation and support.


FLORIDA VETERANS FOUNDATION

Mission:

To serve, support, and advocate for Florida veterans to improve their quality of Life!

The Florida Veterans Foundation serves as the statewide lead organization for Florida veterans and their families by providing direct services and partnering with

state and local governments, veteran service organizations, and educational institutions to improve their physical, financial, mental, emotional, and social well-being. The Foundation supports the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs’ mission of advocacy; and, advocates for Florida veterans through local and statewide outreach to educate the public and governmental entities, increasing awareness on veteran-related issues.

Contact: Email: FVF@FDVA.state.fl.us Email Ben: colbff@gmail.com

Phone: 850-488-4181 Website: No Florida Veteran Left Behind - Help Florida Veterans (helpflvets.org)


Some Services Provided: Emergency Financial Assistance; VA Registration; Medical Needs- Mental and Physical; Homelessness; Jobs and Employment; Food; Help with Bills; Disabled Assistance; Suicide Prevention; Opiod Addiction; Veterans Ride Program; Seminars & Workshops, etc.


GULF COAST VETERANS ADVOCACY COUNCIL

Mission:

To be a voice for all veterans concerning mental and medical health care; to advocate needed changes in the veterans health care system; and to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families. The objective is to serve those who have served this country. The physical geographic area covers 7 Florida counties, 4 Alabama counties, and 8 Mississippi counties on the Gulf Coast.

Contact: Email: GCVACFlAlMs.org@gmail.com Email Ben: colbff@gmail.com

Phone: 1-888-838-6694 Website: www.gcvacflalms.org


Some Services Provided: VA Registration; Community Providers; Medical Needs- Mental and Physical; Homelessness; Food; Clothing; Disabled Assistance; Operation Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan & Operation Iraqi Freedom- Iraq Assistance; COVID Shots; Haircuts; Seminars & Workshops, etc.


AMERICAN LEGION

Mission:

As the world's largest veterans organization, the American Legion provides information and assistance to veterans on a wide range of topics. Vision: "The American Legion: Veterans Strengthening America." The American Legion

embraces all current and former members of the military and endeavors to help them transition to their communities.

Contact: Email: AMLPost340@gmail.com Email Ben: colbff@gmail.com

Phone: 850-477-8094 Website: www.legion.org


Some Services Provided:

Health, education, pension, burial, and other benefits, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Gulf War illnesses, VA home loans, Agent Orange exposure, youth education, responsible citizenship, etc. Advocates for upholding and defending the U.S. Constitution, American values and patriotism, equal justice and opportunity for everyone and discrimination against no one.


Conclusion

There are many unique relationships and factors that affect civilians and veterans, related mental health problems, and destructive firearms use that heighten the need to support and help veterans and civilians in many areas of need. Those using a gun in most violent situations is not caused by mental health problems, according to studies. Treatment of mental illnesses can reduce mental health problems and suicide risks for veterans and civilians through therapy and medications. The answer is not to take away the veterans' and others' guns, but to get them the treatments and medications needed for their specific mental health issue. Veterans have unique needs and there are many worthwhile organizations that support our veterans, especially their mental and health care and related problems. Hope you consider volunteering time or donating to 501(c)(3) charitable organizations that help with mental health conditions.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.


* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters and situations. The author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.


© 2023 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col. Ben Findley at ColBFF@gmail.com.


ABOUT COL. BEN

Col. Ben is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services weapons training, Special Ops duty at various bases, and is Air Force qualified as “Expert” in small arms. He is a Vietnam-era veteran and serves on the Board of Directors for the Florida Veterans Foundation of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Memorial Park Foundation Board, Pensacola, the Gulf Coast Veterans Council, the American Legion, and other veterans' organizations. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor. His doctorate is in business and education and he has served as director of legal affairs for an organization and taught university business law. He is a graduate of two law enforcement academies for civilians.


Ben has written five books, including Management Processes and Paradigms; Psychological Operations (for the Department of Defense); Job Application, Interviewing, & Resume Preparation; Principles of Finance & Investing; and Concealed Carry & Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection (second printing.) His reference book is endorsed by several organizations and instructors. Contact him at ColBFF@gmail.com.


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