Hidden wounds in veterans: "We need to pay attention"

Hidden wounds in veterans: "We need to pay attention"

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - About half of returning service members who need treatment for mental health conditions seek it, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

And because we can't see those battle wounds, many of us don't know they exist.

"We need to pay attention," said retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Lefford Fate, who served as a mental health technician for more than 20 years of active service.

"It's something that you can't really see," he said. "It's hard to see depression. It's hard to see anxiety. It's hard to see someone that's struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

He witnessed many of his colleagues return from deployment with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and traumatic brain injuries. One of them was a friend; a chaplain who committed suicide.

"I don't think he felt that he could talk to people about what his issues were. So he suffered in silence," he said. "Many people don't just seek out the help because of the stigma of being -- of having a mental illness."

"There's no shame in asking for help," Fate said. "It is not a sign of weakness."

"If you have a veteran in your life, I ask people to reach out to talk to those people and refer them to somebody that can help because I know from experience, most of us veterans would rather talk to somebody that's been there and done that versus somebody that doesn't know the walk we've walked."

Fate also said there is a disconnect between the military and civilian care when it comes to mental health records. But help is available. Click here for resources for veterans from SAMSHA.

Some veterans struggling with mental illness also face problems with substance abuse and homelessness.

"A lot of the mentally ill, a lot of the homeless are just invisible," he said. "A lot of people think that the people that are homeless are just, you know, drunks and alcoholics and people that never did anything. They never even think that a lot of those people out there are veterans or they were people that had a very high status in the past and because of mental health disorder or because of their disease of alcoholism or drug addiction they ended up on the streets."

Fate said police need to be trained to deal with people who struggle with mental health problems. It starts by influencing our elected officials.

"I can say, 'this is a problem. It's very important to me. Can you look into it? Can you pay attention to it?' I think that many times we wait for somebody else to do it and it's not a somebody else problem. It's all our problem."

Fate said help is available.

"If you see somebody that is struggling with mental illness, say something early. Try to get them some help. Try to get them to a hospital or a mental health clinic or a community mental health [facility], he said. "That is when they start hitting the slippery slope: hiding it, not talking about it, waiting until it's too late."

A Veterans Crisis Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255. Press 1.

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