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Meaghan Smith


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  • donated via 2017-08-25 16:59:57 -0400

    Donate to the NYC Veterans Alliance

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  • commented on Community Mental Health Summit at the Manhattan VAMC 2015-10-01 23:47:08 -0400
    I haven’t served in the military and I have no background in psychology or mental health issues. Big disclaimer that I know there’s more to mental health than the risk of suicide, by my personal experience and bias will But my brother Mike served in the Marine Corps and we lost him to PTSD-related suicide on October 6, 2010. One of Mike’s best friends from his time in the Marines completed suicide on November 13, 2012; what would have been my brother’s 30th birthday. A friend’s brother completed suicide on September 30, 2013. I know of others with whom my brother served that have attempted. These are my “credentials.” I wish I didn’t have them. I mention all of this because the root of the problem, the things that drove them to the point of suicide, were all different. This makes the problem increasingly difficult to solve.

    Yes, we need more from the VA. We can’t have people waiting hours, days, weeks or months for any kind of appointments, mental health-related or otherwise. Mike used the VA system in Massachusetts and would sit in the lobby for hours until he was seen by someone. They should never be told to “get over it” and they should never be turned in to shadows of themselves through over-medication. These are fundamental issues that should be addressed immediately.

    We also need better collaboration between service organizations and health providers, so veterans looking for help with any medical issue, but particularly mental health, don’t have to retell their stories to new face after new face. There must be HIPAA-friendly ways to network and share information so the right people can be brought in at the right time.

    But to echo some of the other posts on this chain: what about the veterans that aren’t asking for help? How are the VA and other service organizations taking meaningful, impactful steps to reduce stigma associated with seeking help and support for their mental health? These are proud men and women who have been trained to support each other, sometimes at their own expense. How will the VA and others get them to see that they need to focus on themselves, instead of the team? How do you get them to see that they need help? That they can’t white-knuckle their way through it this time? What steps are being taken to get them to take that first step? To make that phone call? How do you get someone that has been repeatedly told they are strong, the best, the elite, to admit that they might need help to figure out what’s going on in their own head? How will we educate family members on recognizing signs that their loved one needs help? It’s not coasters. It’s not bottle openers.

    Additionally, what is the VA doing to better identify those within the system that are doing well but may still be at risk for suicide? Mike was seeing a VA therapist and that same therapist told us at his wake that she was shocked; that he had been doing so well. Many in the recent NYT article on the 2/7 were also in some way involved with the VA. How will the VA and other organizations better identify “at risk” veterans? How is the VA involving the families of those they’re treating, to potentially get another POV on what they’re hearing directly from the veteran? We heard so many times from his Marine friends that Mike had been the rock for others. That he was the one everyone else turned to. That he was the one they weren’t worried about. How could my family and I recognized signs that our loved one needed more help than what he had been receiving?

    Bottom line: if we’re only trying to help people once they’ve self-selected in to the broken system, we’re starting much too far down the path. We have to get to the root of the issue. I don’t have the answers and I’m putting a lot of responsibility on the VA and other health care providers here, but they’re the “experts.” I do believe that they shoulder a lot of responsibility here.

    Lastly, I know that there are many great people at the VA, in NYC and across the country, that are working tirelessly to help the veterans in their care. To help those within the system that are trying to help, family members should do their own research, ask their own questions and reach out to available resources to find ways to make their own impact on their veteran’s health and well being.