With the recent death of actor and comedian Robin Williams, once again the issues of mental health, depression, and suicide are making a resurgence in our national discourse. In the last few hours, I have watched countless programs discussing these issues in every way imaginable, from a listing of the signs and symptoms of depression, to descriptions of someone who may be on the brink of suicide, to the perils of drug and alcohol abuse, and the list could go on and on. However, none of the discussions have centered on the veteran population specifically.
The sad truth is that as many as 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The sad truth is that the problems with mental health care through the VA healthcare system are rampant, and there is much work to be done in this regard.
As a veterans advocate, I am keenly aware that depression and suicide is very real and has great impact not only on veterans, but also on their families and loved ones. So I wanted to write this blog to provide veterans with some helpful insights for navigating through the VA disability process.
- Depression is very real and should be recognized and treated accordingly. Keep a diary of your symptoms and talk to your doctors about the symptoms. Suffering in silence is not the answer.
- Ask your friends and family members to keep a list of your symptoms (along with the frequency), and discuss with your doctors. Sometimes friends and family can provide valuable and unique insight into your situation. When you’re the one suffering, it’s hard to see the forest past the trees.
- If you have filed a VA disability claim for mental health, you should know that the VA will rate your disability according to the severity and frequency of your symptoms. For example, if you suffer from suicidal ideation or near-continuous panic or depression affecting your ability to function, you may be entitled to a 70% disability rating. However, the only way that the VA will know about the severity and frequency is if this is documented in your medical records. It will also help to have lay statements from your friends and family members to submit in support of your claim.
- Depression is frequently caused by chronic pain. If you are service connected for a physical condition that has resulted in depression, you should consider filing for secondary service-connected benefits.
- It is common for veterans with PTSD to suffer from depression, which then results in substance abuse. If you develop secondary conditions as a result of the substance abuse, those may also be secondarily service-connected.
- If you are in crisis or know a veteran or family member who is, it is never too late to reach out and get help. The Veterans Crisis Line is a great resource for veterans and their families, and is available via phone and the web.
The sad truth is that it actually takes tragic events of this magnitude in order for these issues to come to light. However, it is my hope that the newfound attention will somehow bring much needed help to veterans and their families. The charge for real change should start today.