From helping a soldier who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to simply assisting another in getting back on their feet after returning home from combat, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has provided support to service members across the nation since the 1600s.
The U.S. has the most “comprehensive system of assistance” for veterans of any nation in the world, with roots that can be traced back to 1636, according to the VA’s website. That was when the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony were at war with the Pequot Indians. The pilgrims passed a law that stated disabled soldiers would be supported by the colony. More than 100 years later, the Continental Congress encouraged enlistments during the Revolutionary War, providing pensions to disabled soldiers in 1776.
In 1811, the federal government authorized the first home care and medical facility for veterans.
In the 19th century, the nation’s veterans assistance program was expanded to include benefits and pensions not only for veterans, but also for their widows and dependents.
After the Civil War, many state veterans homes were established. Since domiciliary care was available at all state veterans homes, incidental medical and hospital treatment was provided for all injuries and diseases, whether or not of service origin, according to the VA. Indigent and disabled veterans of the Civil War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War and Mexican Border period, as well as the discharged regular members of the armed forces, received care at those homes.
As the U.S. entered World War I in 1917, Congress established a new system of veterans benefits, including programs for disability compensation, insurance for service personnel and veterans, and vocational rehabilitation for the disabled. By the 1920s, three different federal agencies administered the various benefits — the Veterans Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers — before consolidating and becoming what is now known as the VA.
The VA offers many programs to assist veterans of all backgrounds, which includes homeless veterans, women veterans, minority veterans and veterans with mental health issues, such as PTSD.
One of the VA’s mantras is “No Veteran Should Be Without a Place to Call Home,” which conveys the department’s commitment to ending homelessness among veterans. According to the VA’s website, the department combats homelessness by “conducting coordinated outreach to proactively seek out veterans in need of assistance,” “connecting homeless and at-risk veterans with housing solutions, health care, community employment services and other required supports,” and “collaborating with federal, state and local agencies; employers; housing providers, faith-based and community nonprofits; and others to expand employment and affordable housing options for Veterans exiting homelessness.”
For women veterans, there is a Center for Women Veterans (CWV). Each year the CWV sponsors an annual campaign to celebrate the contributions of women veterans during and after military service. This year’s campaign, which launched March 6, was titled “Trailblazers: Women Breaking Barriers.” One of the CWV’s top goals is to increase awareness of women veterans and encourage women veterans to “choose VA for their total body wellness.”
The Center for Minority Veterans (CMV) is the VA’s model for inter-and intra-agency co-operation, according to the department’s website, which guarantees all veterans receive equal service regardless of race, origin, religion or gender.
PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident or sexual assault.
According to the VA, it is normal for veterans to have upsetting memories, feel on edge or have trouble sleeping after experiencing such events. If symptoms last more than a few months, it could be PTSD.
The good news, according to the VA, is that there are effective treatments.
The VA claims it is the world’s “leading research and educational center of excellence” on PTSD and traumatic stress. It offers a variety of options to help veterans who struggle with PTSD and other mental health issues.
Veterans and their family members can connect with support through in-person appointments at local VA facilities, telehealth sessions and online resources at VA.gov.
The VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Guidebook provides information on the variety of mental health services that VA offers on both a national and local level. The programs and services are rooted in several core values, including focus on recovery, evidence based treatments, measurement-based care, coordinated care for the whole person, round-the-clock service and care close to home.
Emergency mental health care is available 24/7 at VA medical centers. VA medical centers that do not have a 24-hour emergency room are required to provide services through a local, non-VA hospital. Telephone evaluations at VA medical centers and the Veterans Crisis Line are also available 24/7. To utilize the crisis line, dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk with someone. Veterans can also send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
Other helpful avenues that veterans or active military members can pursue include starting a confidential online chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or taking a “self-check” quiz at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Quiz. The quiz can help determine if and how stress and/or depression might be affecting them.
The Marshall County VA office is located at 424 Blount Ave. in Guntersville. Contact 256-571-7761 or stop by the office Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., to learn more about how the VA can help veterans in need, or how to volunteer/donate.