A new effort is underway in Georgia to improve mental health support for veterans and their loved ones, as Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a bill aimed at addressing high suicide rates among veterans.
The latest national Veterans Affairs data cite more than 6,000 veteran suicides in 2020.
House Bill 414 allocated grant funding to programs providing resources to veterans and their families.
Omar Wilson, a Bronze Star Army veteran who served in Iraq, believes these are crucial for families in difficult circumstances, especially when a service member has experienced trauma.
“I think it’s very vital that not only veterans, but their family members be involved as well,” Wilson urged. “Because it’s a place that is unfamiliar, for both the veteran and the family member.”
He highlighted the legislation should give families more options to find the help they need, and could even be a factor in providing clinics what they need to shorten wait times and hire more staff, amid a health care worker shortages and long wait times for appointments.
To qualify for funding, the bill mandated programs must deliver behavioral health services, employ evidence-backed methods, incorporate military culture awareness training, and promptly connect with clients post-discharge.
According to Wilson, having transition support can greatly affect a veteran’s reintegration into civilian life.
“Initially, some people don’t know,” Wilson acknowledged. “I myself didn’t realize I had anything going on. It’s very important for, even if people don’t feel like anything is wrong with them, to still be able to talk to somebody and get those conversations going.”
The National Academy of Sciences reports a significant portion of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced PTSD, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, with almost 44% saying they struggled to readjust, post-conflict. The Georgia Department of Veterans Service will allocate the grant funding to qualifying programs around the state.
This story was written by Shanteya Hudson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.