Bridging Gaps – The Need for Policy that
Connects Veterans to
The United States is known for innovation. From the telegraph to the lightbulb, from Kitty Hawk to Apollo 11, America’s technological ingenuity has broken boundaries again and again. In addition to reimagining modern life, American innovation has also reshaped how the United States protects its homeland, its allies and its interests abroad.
Anti-ballistic missile defense systems, for example, equip the United States to ward off attacks before they reach American soil. High-definition satellite imaging offers troops on the ground unprecedented coordination capabilities. Breakthroughs continue to happen every day, often made possible by substantial support from the federal government.
Closing the Treatment Gap
Suicides among active-duty military members reached a six-year high in 2019. Then, amid the psychological toll of pandemic isolation, incidence rose even higher, with the U.S. military seeing a 20% increase in suicides in 2020.
One contributing factor is post-traumatic stress, the trauma-triggered mental health condition that has haunted service members for decades.
PTS and other mental health conditions related to military service are treatable. But many service members forego treatment,
leaving themselves vulnerable to the potential longterm dangers of untreated PTS
Osteoarthritis Treatment for America’s Veterans
Service to the nation leaves its mark on veterans in a number of ways.
Among the most prevalent physical injuries experienced by servicemen and women is osteoarthritis. More than one in three veterans develops some form of arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Inflicting pain and inflammation in the hands, knees or hips, osteoarthritis can be the debilitating result of wear and tear on the body’s joints. It can undermine servicemen and women’s ability to fulfill their duties, as well as their ability to adjust to civilian life again after discharge.
Policy Priorities to Improve Veterans’ Mental Health
Most Americans, policymakers included, consider it a national duty to care for military veterans. The recent findings of a veterans task force can help policymakers chart a path to better fulfill that sacred obligation.
In March of 2019, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating the task force known as PREVENTS – the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide.1 With the publication of the task force’s recommendations, policymakers are now poised to make sure all U.S. veterans have access to the mental health services they need and deserve.
That access must include groups that can be marginalized or difficult to reach, specifically women, homeless veterans and veterans who separated from the service with an other-than-honorable discharge.
Connecting Homeless Veterans with Mental Health Services
United States military veterans as a population face significant mental health challenges – and a substantially higher rate of suicide than non-veterans. Researchers and policymakers are heightening their attention to this problem, but the challenge remains complex, especially when veterans’ mental health issues are compounded by homelessness.
Virtual Reality & Veterans’ Mental Health
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be difficult to treat, but a new therapeutic approach using virtual reality technologies shows tremendous promise. Treatments such as Bravemind, an interactive, virtual reality-based exposure therapy tool used in a clinical setting, are now being used to treat PTSD. Tools like these can curb the painful rise in veteran suicides and help men and women with PTSD resume healthy, productive lives.
Continued research and improved access to virtual reality-based tools like Bravemind can go a long way toward addressing the mental health crisis facing the nation’s veterans.
Veteran Barriers to Access for Innovative Rehabilitative Devices
The VA offers a broad network and dedicated cohort of physicians to treat these veterans. Yet access to innovative rehabilitative devices can be limited. Such is the case with medical exoskeletons, wearable devices that improve mobility and boost independence for patients with spinal cord injuries.
These barriers to access are problematic, because technology like the exoskeleton can improve outcomes for veterans and reduce their dependency on care over the long term. By contrast, the cost of treating a Veteran with spinal cord injury using outdated technologies can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
The Mental Health Benefits of Physical Rehabilitation
Combat injuries that would have once been fatal are now survivable because of medical advances and more sophisticated frontline care. In turn, scores of veterans are returning home with severe physical limitations and long-term, complex medical needs. Addressing the disabilities that are easy to see has long been the focus, but diagnosing and treating the emotional and psychological effects of warfare has only become a priority in recent decades.
Delivering on the Promise of the Forever GI Bill
Access to higher education remains a major concern for veterans. Despite the funding and assistance made available, issues persist. Recent attempts to address these problems are promising but stop short of offering a complete solution.
With over $11 billion a year spent on education benefits for veterans, policymakers must give due attention to this topic.
About SoldierStrong Access
Soldier Strong Access is a non-profit advocacy organization existing alongside its non-profit charity partner, Soldier Strong. After succeeding in helping dozens of veterans overcome challenges with mobility and launching a scholarship fund to put college within reach of America’s returning soldiers, Soldier Strong knew changes in public policies would be necessary to provide access to these opportunities for the veterans community at large.
Issues We Face
Access to Life Changing Medical Technologies
Medical innovation is creating opportunity. But innovation does not equal access.
Public policy around veteran care has not kept up with recent improvements in medical technologies.
While government programs are in place to research, develop, and test new technologies for our soldiers on the battlefield, no programs exist to facilitate veterans’ access to those technologies for rehabilitation and function.
Soldier Strong Access advocates for policies that support innovation and speed approvals to bring these life-changing technologies from the battlefield to the VA, and within the reach of America’s veteran community.
Access to Educational Opportunities
As higher education costs rise, there is a widening gap in the GI Bill.
Programs to integrate returning soldiers into campus life are often fragmented and diffused and allow too many veterans to fall through the cracks. This dynamic most impacts those with PTS and other psychological issues for whom treatment is available, but often not identified in a timely way.
Turmoil within the for-profit education space has a particularly heavy impact on veterans since GI Bill funds lost when these institutions close can mean a loss of housing benefits as well.
Soldier Strong Access works for policy change in order to close these gaps, so our veterans can acquire the skills they need to thrive as private citizens.