Wounded Warrior Project and financial services firm USAA, which was founded by U.S. Army officers, increased their efforts this month to connect veterans with resources to help them address PTSD and other mental health issues affecting the military community. The effort comes during June as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and June 27 being PTSD Awareness Day,
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, who is Chief Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and has been with the organization for more than five years, told American Military News that of the four million Americans who served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, an estimated 400,000 veterans “have invisible injuries and need treatment, and that’s what we’re talking about today.”
The 2021 annual survey by WWP found that 93 percent of the WWP members it surveyed reported living with mental health conditions that are considered severe and 83 percent of them reported suffering from more than one condition at a time.
Linnington said that about 30 percent of the veterans WWP surveys annually reported having mental health needs left unmet for one reason or another.
“That’s concerning to us, so that’s the population that we’re going after with this awareness campaign in partnership with USAA to help connect veterans with mental health services that they’ve earned,” Linnington said.
Linnington said that of the average 20 veterans who commit suicide every day in the U.S., only about six are in Department of Veterans Affairs medical benefits programs, “And even of the six that do take advantage of the VA, only 60 percent of those six are getting treatment for mental health.”
Linnington said issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety are “not just the area we’re focused on this month for PTSD awareness month, but every month.”
Linnington said the first major challenge to addressing PTSD within the veteran community is overcoming the stigma for veterans to simply ask for help. That stigma has manifested in widespread beliefs that veterans have PTSD and that they are violent or dangerous because of that diagnosis.
A recent survey by the Cohen Veterans Network, which has partnered with WWP on their PTSD awareness efforts, found 67 percent of Americans believe the majority of veterans have PTSD. The survey further found 26 percent of those suffering from PTSD are violent or dangerous.
Since 2009, Linnington said USAA has the largest supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project and has supported the Wounded Warrior Project in all of its focus areas for helping wounded veterans, including those “invisible wounds.”
Retired Navy Adml. John Bird, the head of military affairs for USAA said, “With June being PTSD awareness month, we certainly support and want to advocate for our veterans and others to understand and get help. We partner with Wounded Warrior Project because they’re an outstanding organization that really gets to addressing this very big issue.”
“I can certainly appreciate [veterans and service members] thinking of the stigma or are not sure that they can get help, but I think once they share that experience with someone else who has gone through it and been successful, I think that will cause them to get the help that they need,” Bird said.
Bird added, “One way for them to overcome the stigma is talking to another veteran who had that shared experience.”
Linnington said the WWP has a resource center to help veterans and service members struggling with both physical and mental traumas to get connected with both individual and group therapy options and events like the Carry Forward 5K to help connect veterans.
Linnington said. “We all know that treatment works, but if you don’t go get treated then you can’t heal.”
Linnington said the effort to reach out to veterans is making a difference, as the WWP has seen veterans increasingly reaching out to the organization for help.
“About 44 a day are signing up for the programs and services we provide,” Linnington said. “A lot of that is due to the awareness campaign we’re doing with USAA and other partners. A lot of it is veterans reaching out to their brothers and sisters in arms to help encourage them to get help.”
Other partners that have joined with WWP and USAA and the Cohen Veterans Network for PTSD awareness efforts include Vets4Warriors and the Strong Star Training Initiative.
Linnington said the public should be encouraged to reach out and connect with veterans, regardless of their own service status.
Bird said the general public could help address PTSD and other mental health issues affecting veterans “if the average person recognizes the stigma, recognizes the misconceptions and overcome those and then reach out and spread the word.”
The WWP resource center can be reached by phone at 1-888-997-2586.
The Veterans Crisis can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.