Why Veterans Should Enroll in the VA Healthcare System
by Lisa Dean
Florida has consistently been one of the top three most populated states in the country consisting of nearly 1.5M Veterans. However, over half of the Veterans that suffer from substance abuse, homelessness, and mental health concerns, are not enrolled with their local VA. Research suggests Veterans who struggle with unstable housing, lack of finances, unemployment, unreliable transportation, and food insecurity have been attributed to higher rates of substance abuse, mental health concerns, and/or involved in the criminal justice system. These stress factors have statistically proven the correlation with completed suicides – the precise reason federal, state, county, non-profit, and profit organizations must take a public health approach to end suicide amongst the Veteran population.
Dr. Joe Bohn, College of Public Health, Policy, Practice and Leadership, University of South Florida, has taken bold efforts to initiate collaboration with community organizations that provide resources focused on the Veteran [at-risk] population. Dr. Bohn organizes bi-weekly meetings with the Veteran Integrated System Network (VISN) 8 leadership, Florida Department of Veteran Affairs (FDVA), NAMI Pinellas County, Mentors for Hillsborough County Veterans, Harmony Hills Behavioral Health facility, Veteran Service Officers, and legislative representatives. Each organization conveys capabilities that bridge the gap to barriers Veterans encounter daily.
But why are Veterans who struggle with these variables not enrolled at the VA and/or not utilizing community resources?
There are a myriad of reasons Veterans do not use the VA healthcare system. The most common reasons include, misinformed eligibility requirements, do not recognize themselves as a Veteran, lack trust in the VA, do not have a local VA facility in their area, and/or cannot access a VA facility.
Harmony Hills Behavioral Health, a VA community care provider located in Central Florida, initiated a residential mental health and substance abuse program that services men and women Veterans. From start to finish, the Veteran team navigates the VA process and systems from the VA enrollment process, IT and training support on government websites, service-connected claims, and case management. The team also supports continued VA healthcare and interfaces with recognized statewide organizations. We aim to reach the goal that the Veteran is informed and feels empowered to take that next step in recovery. It’s a grass roots effort; our organization has a responsibility to guide the Veterans recovery process after treatment and prevent suicides amongst our nation’s heroes. Call us today at 855.494.0357 for the help you need.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/veterans/