SPE­CIAL SALUTE Op­er­a­tion Not For­got­ten helps vet­er­ans ad­dress men­tal health

The Standard Journal - - LIFESTYLE - By Me­lanie Dal­las, LPC

Vet­er­ans hold a spe­cial place in Amer­ica’s heart. We salute those men and women who have fought for Amer­ica, and honor those who have paid the ul­ti­mate price. We re­spect all those who wore the uni­form – and those who cur­rently do – who may not have served in com­bat, but are al­ways ready to pro­tect us when called. With­out our vet­er­ans, Amer­ica would be a dif­fer­ent coun­try, or per­haps not ex­ist at all.

But as the U.S. re­mains en­gaged in its longesteve­r war op­er­a­tion, we as a na­tion have learned a great deal about vet­er­ans’ war ex­pe­ri­ences – and their needs when re­turn­ing state­side. While many vet­er­ans have ex­pe­ri­enced trau­matic phys­i­cal in­juries, we know that per­haps many more have ex­pe­ri­enced trau­matic psy­cho­log­i­cal in­juries – in­juries that can lead to men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use and, too of­ten, sui­cide.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, vet­eran deaths from sui­cide con­tinue to be higher than in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. A re­port is­sued by the agency in June found in 2015 vet­er­ans ac­counted for 14.3 per­cent of U.S. sui­cide deaths, even though vet­er­ans make up only 8.3 per­cent of the adult pop­u­la­tion. The rate of sui­cide was 2.1 times higher among vet­er­ans than non-vet­er­ans.

(This re­port also clar­i­fied pre­vi­ous re­ports which said 20 vet­er­ans were tak­ing their lives each day in the U.S. In fact, that num­ber in­cluded vet­er­ans, ac­tive­duty and re­serve mil­i­tary per­son­nel. Nonethe­less, in 2015, there were nearly 17 vet­er­ans dy­ing by sui­cide each day. Some agen­cies work­ing di­rectly with vet­er­ans and ser­vice mem­bers feel the data con­sis­tently un­der-re­ports sui­cide rates in this pop­u­la­tion, and the ac­tual rate is much higher.)

As one of the largest providers of men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices in the state – serv­ing vet­er­ans and res­i­dents across north­west Ge­or­gia – High­land Rivers Health knows timely treat­ment for men­tal health and sub­stance use is­sues can re­duce the risk of sui­cide.

Our ser­vices for vet­er­ans in­clude out­pa­tient men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment, in­ten­sive out­pa­tient and res­i­den­tial sub­stance use treat­ment, sup­ported em­ploy­ment and sup­port­ive hous­ing, among oth­ers. We also have peer sup­port ser­vices for vet­er­ans, in which vet­er­ans meet reg­u­larly in a group fa­cil­i­tated by a ther­a­pist to share chal­lenges, strate­gies and so­lu­tions.

That’s why High­land Rivers is proud to part­ner with Op­er­a­tion Not For­got­ten (ONF), a non­profit vet­er­ans as­sis­tance or­ga­ni­za­tion head­quar­tered in metro At­lanta, whose mis­sion is to pro­vide pro­grams that de­velop men­tal, emo­tional, spir­i­tual and so­cial well­be­ing for vet­er­ans.

Part of a larger ini­tia­tive called Life Re­newed, Op­er­a­tion Not For­got­ten de­vel­oped an out­stand­ing vet­eran peer group cur­ricu­lum that in­cludes tools for ad­dress­ing is­sues such as PTSD and sui­ci­dal ideation, to help vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies tran­si­tion to life out­side the mil­i­tary.

Af­ter eval­u­at­ing the ONF ma­te­ri­als thor­oughly, High­land Rivers ther­a­pists found them to be an ex­cel­lent com­ple­ment to our vet­eran peer groups. We be­gan pi­lot­ing ONF with our vet­er­ans group in Pauld­ing County and are work­ing to ex­pand it to all of our vet­er­ans groups.

We should never for­get our debt of grat­i­tude to those who have served our coun­try, but we must also never for­get that those men and women some­times suf­fer with wounds we can­not see. While we may seek to pro­vide toprate med­i­cal care to those whose mil­i­tary ser­vice has re­sulted in phys­i­cal in­jury, we must never for­get that men­tal health is a crit­i­cal part of over­all health and well-be­ing.

High­land Rivers Health is proud to part­ner with Op­er­a­tion Not For­got­ten to en­sure the men­tal health of our vet­er­ans is not for­got­ten, but is re­spected, treated, sup­ported and re­mains a pri­or­ity – for our com­mu­ni­ties, our fam­i­lies and our na­tion.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Op­er­a­tion Not For­got­ten, visit www.op­er­a­tionnot­for­got­ten.com. For more in­for­ma­tion about High­land Rivers’ vet­er­ans men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices, and vet­er­ans peer groups, call us at (800) 729-5700.

Me­lanie Dal­las is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor and CEO of High­land Rivers Health, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als

with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders,

and in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in a 12-county re­gion of north­west Ge­or­gia that in­cludes Bar­tow, Chero­kee,

Floyd, Fan­nin, Gilmer, Gor­don, Har­al­son, Mur­ray, Pauld­ing, Pick­ens, Polk and

Whit­field coun­ties.

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