Hempstead, NY (Nov. 11, 2011) -- The Mental Health Association of Nassau County today unveiled a campaign designed to create awareness among Long Island's 152,000 veterans, their families and the public of mental health and other issues facing thousands of veterans in the region.
The campaign, which includes community outreach meetings, posters, brochures and public service advertisements, directs veterans and their caregivers to agencies that can provide assistance. The campaign was unveiled at a press conference at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale just days before Veteran's Day.
"There is a severe lack of public awareness and understanding of mental health issues and other difficulties affecting our veterans," said John Javis, MHANC director of special projects.
Long Island is second only to San Diego, Calif. in terms of the concentration of veterans in a U.S. metropolitan area, he noted.
And, pointing to a study released earlier this year by the Rand Corp. and the New York State Health Foundation that found that about half of the state's veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had some kind of mental health need, but only about a third actually got help, Javis said, "A major reason for not accessing services was that veterans were not aware of the array of benefits and services available to them when they returned home,"
He added that 18 veterans of all generations nationwide commit suicide, according to the Veterans Administration. Also, Javis said that while veterans are about 11 percent of the general adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless population.
"In response to these startling statistics, a number of community organizations have partnered with the VA Medical Center in Northport, using a grant from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, to embark on a veterans awareness campaign," Javis said.
Among those who talked about their situations was Andrew Roberts, a West Point educated former Army captain who served in Iraq and said "As stressful as our year in Iraq was, the worst six months of my life were the six months after I came home. The tension of what I experienced in Iraq felt as if I had been seared in my psyche."
Roberts, now is director of the Rosen Family Center at North Shore-LIJ Health System, which assists vets and their families, added, "Dealing with the upsetting memories of war can be excruciating, but treatment works. Talking to a therapist changed my life. It takes courage to seek help
The campaign focuses on five areas:
Women veterans: There are many new services designed specifically to meet the unique needs of women veterans who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, hypertension and depression or military sexual trauma.
Vietnam veterans: Vietnam veterans exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange are entitled to free healthcare and compensation. They may suffer from Type 2 diabetes, lung cancer and other forms of cancer.
Iraq/Afghanistan veterans: Veterans of these conflicts may need assistance to overcome physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries as they transition back to civilian life.
Older veterans: Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam may suffer from painful memories trigged by 9/11 and recent conflicts and, now, due to the economy, are for the first time finding themselves in need of benefits
Caregivers of veterans: More than two-third of caregivers of veterans say they are highly stressed and almost half had to leave their jobs to care for injured Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. News services have become available to help them.
"Veterans and their families stand in particular need of our compassion and affirming their dignity," said the Rev. Paul Johnson, senior minister at the Unitarian Universal Congregation of Shelter Rock, which has underwritten the campaign. "This campaign underscores a host of daunting challenges they are facing today: post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, depression, substance abuse, higher risk of suicide, lack of support for caregivers.
In addition to the posters and media outreach. Denis Demers, a Vietnam veteran who provided mental health treatment during that era and now a social worker, will visit with community organizations to educate them about veterans issues.
"I can tell you that back then we did not have a full understanding of the psychological trauma of war," said Demers, who served on a psychological treatment team in Da Nang, Vietnam. "Since then, great strides have been made in helping veterans recover. Unfortunately I find that many veterans are not aware of the services and benefits that they can access."
Groups interested in scheduling a presentation should call the Mental Health Association at (516) 489-2322 ext.
Founded in 1953, the Mental Health Association of Nassau County is a not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to improving mental health in the community through advocacy, education, program development and the delivery of direct services. To serve this often-neglected population, it focuses on educating the community-at-large and assisting people get to the services they need. Based in Hempstead, the MHA NC sponsors 31 services and programs to benefit adults, children and the community-at-large. For more information call (516) 489-2322 or go to www.mhanc.org