The Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) has partnered with community organizations to conduct outreach and education to veterans and their families during Veteran Suicide and PTSD Month in June.
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HHSC has launched a series of events and resources aimed at raising public awareness and support for veterans suffering from PTSD and behavioral health issues.
State mental health officials said the pandemic and the recent shooting in Uvalde have triggered and exacerbated mental health concerns among community members, especially among these vulnerable veterans.
“The last couple of years have been rough on everybody, a lot of stressors,” said Dr. Blake Harris, a licensed clinical forensic psychologist and the Director of the Veterans Mental Health Department (VMHD) for the Texas Veterans Commission. “The pandemic, how that impacted people’s ability to connect [and work] with others certainly was amplified for folks who have prior trauma exposure to definitely include veterans.
What we’ve seen is [that the pandemic] has been particularly difficult for those folks who are early transitioning—the early transition period from service member to veteran, when they’re reorienting and kind of redefining who they are, finding their new path in life after they’ve completed their service. Finding that opportunity for connectedness and who they are … was very much stymied by the pandemic and shutdowns.”
The Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) works directly with service members, veterans, and their families to connect them to opportunities, training, and counseling.
TVC provides training and technical assistance to peer service coordinators, community-based partners, and mental health providers. It also coordinates services for justice-involved veterans.
Blake said that while the pandemic has impacted the way members, predominantly older veterans, access PTSD care and services, it has also forced them to adapt to utilizing teletherapy, which has been crucial given the shortage of providers and the challenges of rural access to potentially life-saving connections.
“Leveraging the community partners that are there and making sure they’re skilled up with military cultural competency training, that they know the existing networks like the Military Veteran Peer Network that we have in partnership with those local mental health authorities,” Blake said. “[Community involvement] has been invaluable over the last couple of years to help address the isolation and the distance that have really impacted folks over the last couple of years.”
Through the Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, the commission works with multiple state agencies that intersect with the mental and behavioral health arenas to improve access to resources and services for veterans suffering from PTSD and depression.
HHSC offers a directory of local mental health authorities who provide crisis services 24 /7 to members. These services include prompt face-to-face crisis assessment, crisis intervention services, crisis follow-up, and relapse prevention.
“By increasing the public’s awareness of the tragic health issues facing veterans through campaigns such as Texas Veterans Suicide Prevention and PTSD Awareness Month, lives can be saved,” said George McEntyre, director of Veterans Mental Health Coordination and Programs.
Officials are urging the public to take some time this month to connect with their local military veteran peer network and offer support to veterans in their communities.
“Our peer service coordinators do a great job working with community partners, setting up events, bringing in resources that TVC and other partners leverage so that there may be opportunities to connect some mental health services,” said Blake.
“There [are] opportunities to get trained in suicide prevention [and] lethal means restriction. Make everybody a gatekeeper so that everybody has an opportunity to connect, identify somebody that may be struggling, and then help bridge them to some services.”