Hotline coaches vets' families on mental health
Published: March 28, 2011
The Department of Veterans Affairs is encouraging family members who are concerned about the mental health of a military veteran to call a toll-free number for coaching on how to convince the veteran to seek help.
After a yearlong pilot program, Families at Ease is taking calls at (888) 823-7458, on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern time. The coaching service, provided by VA psychologists and social workers, is in addition to the VA’s separate Veterans Crisis Line, (800) 273-8255. That number is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
More than half of eligible veterans coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan have sought medical care at the VA, and half of those who become patients are treated for mental health issues, according to a study released this month by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense. The group compiled the data from information it received in response to a FOIA request.
“I don’t think those numbers are too far off,” said Steven Sayers, director of the Families at Ease program. “Generally, there’s a stigma to mental health problems, and in the military, although there’s been a shift in the rank and file, there definitely still is a stigma to having PTSD or any other mental health issue, even in a combat zone,” which may prevent veterans from seeking help on their own.
Additionally, he said, veterans may decline to seek help because they think doing so might adversely affect their careers, or because they simply don’t recognize the need.
In the VA’s pilot program, counselors took about 200 calls and coached family members in the Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham, and Los Angeles metro areas.
“We’ve had friends, we’ve had ex-girlfriends, parents, spouses,” Sayers said. “We’ve worked with family members for up to 20 calls. We had several cases where the veteran is unfortunately psychotic and very much against being involved in care, and it takes a lot of working with family members to gather the right resources to get the vet into care. That’s the more complex situation. We also work with others where the veteran is ready and we just have to send them the 1010-EZ form” so they can enroll.
The program’s official website lists eight behaviors that family members might notice indicating a possible problem, including sleep problems, restlessness, “overly watchful” behavior, quick-temperedness, social withdrawal, depression, reckless driving, or other risk behaviors such as alcohol abuse and smoking.
Family members or friends “should call when they can talk freely, with the veteran not around,” Sayers suggested. “Any friend or family member who is concerned about a vet and how they’re functioning, even if they’re not sure, they should call.”