There are 18.5 million veterans in the US, including 1.5 million of them dealing with substance abuse issues. And substance abuse can lead to life-threatening issues. For 2017, the year that the most recent data is available, roughly 17 veterans per day died from suicide, nearly 1.5 times the rate for other adults.
The road from the battle field back home can be long and treacherous. But for many vets, the hardest part is the first step.
Veterans “fought for our freedom, [yet] they’re still in bondage by the pain and the sacrifice they have made.” – Dr. Katrina BeShears, Dingell VA Hospital
From the battle field to the trauma center
Veterans “fought for our freedom, and here oftentimes they’re still in bondage by the pain and the sacrifice they have made for us,” says substance Abuse Expert Dr. Katrina BeShears with the Dingell Veterans Administration Hospital in Detroit. “Folks who’ve never been in combat don’t know what it’s like to be so close to your comrades and then watch them die and have to go back to civilian life and pretend everything is okay. But there are scars with that.”
That’s where some vets turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the stresses of returning to a normal life. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says for those men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in ten develop a substance abuse disorder.
Once substance abuse comes into play, things can get dangerous for veterans and those around them.
“When you’ve got drugs or alcohol in the mix, people can make decisions impulsively they wouldn’t ordinarily make. That decision can affect multitudes of lives of those around them,” says Tara Consolino, a Director of Social Work at the Dingell VA Medical Center.