Defense Policy

Introducing the Aspen Institute Veterans Initiative

March 14, 2013  • Katherine Payne

Aspen Veterans Initiative LaunchesOn Monday, March 18, the Aspen Institute will launch its first-ever program dedicated to veterans issues, the Aspen Institute Veterans Initiative. The program aims to take on the challenge of educating private practitioners (also called “frontline care providers”) to effectively diagnose and treat mental distress in veterans. 

Since 2001, 2.3 million Americans have served in a war zone. Among military personnel who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and New Dawn, over 6,500 service members have lost their lives, close to 50,000 have been physically wounded and an estimated 400,000 return home with mental illnesses, such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

With a large percentage of military personnel who served in Iraq and Afghanistan having already returned from deployment or starting to return, it is surprising how many of them are not receiving health care from the Veterans Health Administration, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). About 40% of eligible individuals are signing up for health care from the VA, of the other 60% receiving standardized care at all, it is in places where their veteran status may go undetected.

Exactly where are these veterans going to receive health care? Some are visiting community organizations like Rockville, MD’s Mental Health Association of Montgomery County (MHA), a county which is estimated to have over 50,000 veterans. During the intake, MHA asks all new clients, “Have you or an immediate family member ever served in the armed forces?” This question might seem insignificant, but it is just the beginning of the kind of specialized care that is needed for veterans and their families.

Unfortunately, many private practitioners and nonmilitary-serving organizations are not aware of or are ill-equipped to handle the health care needs of veterans and their families. Many do not understand military culture and how it differs from the civilian sector. Sometimes there is even discrimination against military personnel who seek mental health services. Add that to an already perceived stigma of mental illness and the veteran is discouraged before care may even begin.

The Aspen Institute Veterans Initiative, employing a broad and diverse set of experts in the field, seeks to offer a toolbox of proven practices to aid not only medical practioners, but anyone in a supportive role for a returning veteran—including a spouse, parent or employer. Together we can equip these frontline care providers with the necessary resources and tools so they can better serve our veterans and their families.

Along with our partners, we invite you to be a part of our efforts and attend the launch event: “A Call to Action: Restoring Mental Well-Being to our Veterans.” Click here to learn more about the initiative and how to attend.

photo credit: The U.S. Army via photopin and cc.