Texas panel talks mental health counseling, support for student veterans
The Eagle, Bryan, Texas
BRYAN, Texas — On day two of the Texas A&M System's Military Friendly Symposium, top caregivers from around the Lone Star state gathered to discuss veteran counseling and support networks.
The second and final day of the event was attended by administrators from Texas universities. A morning panel focused on mental health featured Nancy Welch, a Texas A&M psychologist; Katherine Selber, a professor in the school of social work at Texas State University; Perry Jefferies with TxVet; David Graham, a psychiatrist with the Veterans Administration; and Sean Hanna, statewide coordinator for the Military Veteran Peer Network.
The group talked about health issues unique to veterans and the ways of reaching out to them. Welch said veterans are sometimes reluctant to reach out to the support networks, staff or faculty.
"We do have veterans who have been already through the process, for example, of disability services, but they still hesitate to talk with their instructor about it," Welch said. "They still don't want to explain why they wanted to leave class because the thunderstorm triggered something, or they don't want to say they're uncomfortable with assigned seating because they want to sit in the back of room because of hypervigilance issues. They're not prone to saying, 'I'm having trouble with this.'"
Hanna said it is hard for some veterans to talk through issues.
"It's very human to avoid pain and look for whatever reason I can justify that this isn't working for me, particularly when you're 25 years old," Hanna said.
Graham spoke to statistics gathered by the VA. He said about 60 percent of military service members returning from deployment have a diagnosable mental health condition.
"One of the difficulties when you look at the scope, though, is that in the last 12 years, of the 2.3 million soldiers who have been deployed, about 300,000 have sustained a brain injury, about 300,000 have been diagnosed with PTSD, and there's some overlap between those ... but we're talking about hundreds of thousands of returning soldiers with significant problems and about half of them don't seek services at the VA," Graham said.
He called for increasing outreach and decreasing stigmas surrounding mental health problems.
"When you think about it, if you're in the military and you say you have a problem or you're having difficulties, what happens?" Graham asked. "You get pulled out of your unit. You don't get to assist your buddies if they go out and something happens. You could close the door on any chance of promotion. When they say 'get help' there are still a lot of negative consequences. So magically when they get out of the military they're now supposed to feel perfectly good about and do a 180 about going to seek mental health care? It doesn't work that way sometimes."
Jefferies advocated peer support.
"When we can create places for them to meet, whether it's a student veteran center, a room somewhere on campus, a Sunday school building downtown, where they can be together and they can create a low bar to entry where they don't have to sit in line in waiting rooms," Jefferies said. "Where they don't have to sit in a row of chairs next to people with criminal problems and psychoses and everything else. Where they can just come in and get a cup of coffee and talk to each other or participate in a recreational event. They will go fishing or watch football. Then they'll come back and talk to a peer volunteer or they'll turn to the county veterans service officer and file a claim."