The Never-Ending War: Examining the Plight of Addicted Veterans

Addicted Veterans

Objectively speaking, it’s hard to think of circumstances more treacherous than the battlefield during an active armed conflict; the deafening blasts of bombs and gunfire, the chaos, the violence, etc. It’s often been debated whether even the United States armed forces, arguably the most disciplined entity in the history of the world, can fully prepare men and women for the realities of war. While most returning veterans manage to somehow compartmentalize their experiences in war and reacclimate themselves to the world around them when they come home, others wind up leaving more of themselves on the battlefield than they may have initially realized…either that or they wind up bringing the battlefield home with them. As we prepare to observe another Veterans Day, Recovery Unplugged wants to extend a sincere and profound thank-you to all who have served in uniform, while recognizing the struggles that addicted veterans face on a daily basis.

By the Numbers

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that about one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 30 percent of Vietnam veterans will experience PTSD in their lifetime. Each day, an average of 20 veterans die by suicide. They also report that 27 percent of all veterans in VA care who are diagnosed with PTSD also have Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Trauma is one of the leading drivers and sustainers of substance abuse among addicted veterans. There was a 56 percent increase of soldiers seeking treatment for alcoholism from 2003 to 2009 and, like many other populations of Americans, military vets are also being significantly impacted by the opioid crisis. Approximately 60 percent of veterans who fought in the Middle East and 50 percent of older veterans have chronic pain for which many were seeking prescription opioids.

Who’s to Blame?

Stakeholders in every area of the discussion have pointed to a variety of factors that drive addiction among veterans. Lack of access to quality mental health treatment upon returning home often leads veterans to self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs to suppress the memories associated with their combat. While the VA invests nearly two billion dollars each year on research on suicide prevention, PTSD and depression, and offers links to treatment providers that are familiar with military culture, the rest of the world isn’t so accommodating. Only 13 percent of treatment providers outside of the VA’s scope met the criteria to deliver culturally competent, evidence-based care. In addition, half of US counties lack any practicing mental health professionals. The VA has also come under considerable scrutiny  for the extremes with which it administered then withheld prescription painkillers.

We Can Do Better

Increasing access to quality treatment and making sure they have the right care resources is just the start of how we can help our addicted veterans. These men and women took their lives into their hands to ensure our nation remained safe and independent. Making sure we have substantive behavioral health safety nets for when they come is the least we can do to pay them back. Recovery Unplugged is grateful to our veterans for their profound sacrifice and is prepared to offer comprehensive treatment for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. You don’t have to, nor should you, go through this battle alone.