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OPINION

Supporting veterans during the pandemic

By MARK GRAHAM | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 27, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic brings an unprecedented time in our history and personal experience. Among the veteran community, there have been over 300 reported deaths due to the virus, causing many to be experiencing a variety of emotions and concern for what the future holds, with the added stress or loneliness while maintaining social isolation.

The good news is that now, more than ever, we are seeing communities come together in this time of physical distance.

Though, as the weeks of mandated quarantine measures carry on, anxieties and financial worries are bubbling up among the veteran population. The Bob Woodruff Foundation published an original research paper this month which determined that a “large number of veterans are likely to become unemployed at rates that could exceed the highest level of veteran unemployment in the post-9/11 era. A significant portion of veterans within the workforce are employed in the industries most likely to experience immediate layoffs.”

The paper’s findings also expounded on the mental health implications of the current crisis, saying, “… emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation, and unplanned wage loss or job termination can create or exacerbate mental health challenges for veterans.”

While the pandemic itself may be unprecedented, those that support the military veteran community are familiar with stepping up to provide immediate and long-term support plans.

Experience has trained us to confront unique challenges head on, and it is important that veterans and their families know they are not alone. While there may be bumpy roads ahead for some, their challenges do not need to spiral into crises.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 along the Gulf Coast, where 13 million people were affected, and nearly 135,000 homes damaged or destroyed, there was a vital need for communities to come together to support the most vulnerable populations impacted by the catastrophic event.

Among those affected, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated over half a million veterans were impacted by the hurricane, and emergency measures went into effect to respond to the immediate need for resources.

Still today, nearly three years later, veteran service organizations like Vets4Warriors, Combined Arms, and The Mission Continues are addressing the existing need to provide peer support, community resources and rebuilding initiatives to Harvey-impacted veterans whose lives were turned upside down in an instant.

Organizations like our 24/7 peer support network, Vets4Warriors, were built on the belief that, through the power of connection, there is no problem that cannot be solved and no challenge that cannot be overcome.

When it comes to the military veteran community, we provide support whenever they confront an issue, wherever they are in the world. We are with them all the way. And we will be with those impacted by COVID-19 all the way.

The challenges Harvey-impacted veterans are facing are not dissimilar to what we are seeing unfold amid the COVID-19 pandemic: financial burdens, mental health struggles and a need for camaraderie.

In fact, these are some of the most common reasons our veteran peers receive calls from the military veteran community across the country. Only now, these challenges are exacerbated by a critical event that may get worse before it gets better.

For instance, as social isolation increases, often anxiety increases as well.

And while we may not always be able to be in close proximity to one another, we are still able to communicate. That is why we recommend our military veteran community take time out of their day to call a friend or family member, or send a message to someone they haven’t talked to in a while. Plus, they can always reach out to a Vets4Warriors peer.

Many in the military veteran community are concerned about the financial burdens they are facing, and our organization is structured to connect veterans with needed resources that can be of help.

Our peers are also always available to talk — 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Peers will speak, confidentially, about coping tactics and additional stress management techniques that can be utilized in the short-term.

For the long-term, our goal is to ensure that issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic do not reach a point of crisis. We will connect veterans and their families to the resources they need and stay with them all the way.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is executive director of Vets4Warriors, a national 24/7 peer support network for veteran and military communities 100% staffed by trained veterans and members of the military community, their families or caregivers.

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