Growing Public Health Crisis of Domestic Violence and Suicides by Returning Veterans
Forum to Explore Solutions Presented by The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology
May 27, 2008 –Boston (West Roxbury), MA—“We are greatly concerned in this state about the “invisible wounds of war”—the mental health of our returning veterans, the stress, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—which raise the specter of rising levels of domestic violence and suicide. We need to begin focusing on their recuperation as well as building awareness and support programs with their families about what to expect when the veterans return,” according to Senator Richard T. Moore, State Senator and Chairman of the MA Health Care Financing Committee. Senator Moore is one of three key speakers offering guidance and assistance at a June 13 free public forum designed to explore solutions to an impending mental health crisis among returning veterans.
WHAT: Returning War Veterans: Meeting Health Needs of Veterans, Families and Communities,”
WHEN: Friday, June 13, 2008, 2:30 pm to 5:00 pm
WHERE: Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, (MSPP) West Roxbury, MA
Based on a recent RAND Corporation report, 300,000 veterans have mental health problems and 320,000 have brain injuries, with close to 50 percent of service members with mental health issues not seeking help over the past year. Various reasons given included: a stigma on their career; worry about side effects of medications; the belief that family and friends could help them with the problem.
There is an average of 18 suicides a day among American military veterans and since last August, a national hot line setup by the Department of Veterans Affairs has made more than 720 rescues from suicides and responded to more than 37,200 from veterans seeking help.
In February, a community in Port Charlotte, Florida came together and searched for weeks for 24-year old Eric Hall, a missing discharged veteran who suffered flashbacks of being surrounded by Iraqi insurgents. Eric Hall’s body was later found in a hillside pipeline. The grieving community realized that wars do not always end when combatants return home. On the home front, they last a lifetime.
The way war is conducted in the 21st Century makes all involved at greater risk for mental health problems, according to Dr. Jaine Darwin, of Harvard Medical School, who will join Senator Moore at the June 13th forum. “There is no such thing as behind the lines any more in a battle. Nowhere is safe, and the more exposed a soldier is to combat, the more vulnerable he/she is to post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression,” she says. Dr. Darwin, a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, is a Clinical Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and Co-Director of the SOFAR Project (Strategic Outreach to Families of All Reservists). SOFAR is a pro bono mental health service that provides free psychological support, including prevention services, to extended families of reserves and guards, from deployment through reunion and reintegration into society.
Speaker Dr. Jonathan Shay, Staff Psychiatrist, Veterans Administration Outpatient Clinic, Boston, is a prolific author including “Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming”. He is the 2007 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship Award. Dr. Shay will offer his extensive knowledge of trauma and its effects of war on combatants. He speaks profoundly on three things that reduce the trauma of war on soldiers: keeping members of combat units together; providing them good leadership; and putting them through intense and realistic training.
The moderator of the forum will be Dr. David Satin, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Chairman of the Erich Lindemann Memorial Lecture Committee at MSPP.
While the situation is dire, there has been some national movement forward in addressing the issues of veterans, family and community. Urging troops to get psychiatric counseling for wartime mental health problems, a new policy was announced in May by Defense Secretary Robert Gates stating that it would not count against combatants if they applied for national security clearance for sensitive jobs (many have hesitated to get psychiatric care because of fear that could cost them their security clearances, harm their careers and embarrass them before commanders and comrades.)
In Massachusetts, Senator Moore concentrates his efforts on helping veterans and their families statewide, but also seeks federal help to do so. According to Senator Moore, recent discussions at the state and federal level have focused on the possible development of “step-down facilities,” halfway houses that provide services to returning veterans with mental health issues and traumatic brain injuries. Veterans would be able to stay for 18-24 months in these live-in apartments and receive professional help they need as they re-enter society. A proposal to construct a 12-16-bed facility has been initiated by the Seven Hills Foundation in Worcester, MA, with the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. “There is now one such model in the United States up and running and that is in the State of Virginia”, says Moore.
The forum is presented by the Erich Lindemann Memorial Lecture Committee and The Erich Lindemann Community Mental Health Education Center Initiative of the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. This is the 31st annual Lindemann forum, a legacy to honor the commitment of Dr. Lindemann in addressing community mental health, public health and social policy issues.
The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology was founded in 1974 to offer a unique approach to doctoral training for psychologists by focusing on the immediate integration of clinical experience with academic studies. Today the school’s mission is to bring the benefits of psychological training to other areas of American society, including schools, the workplace, the courts, and especially the underserved populations.