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During Mental Health Awareness Month, 'Be There' for Military Vets

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Wednesday, May 25, 2022   

May marks both Mental Health Awareness Month and Military Appreciation Month. In Pennsylvania, officials want to ensure that veterans know mental-health and substance-use resources are available.

Pennsylvania is home to nearly 800,000 military veterans, the fourth-largest veteran population in the country.

Rick Hamp, special assistant to the deputy adjutant general for veteran affairs at the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, leads military suicide-prevention efforts in the state. He said veterans sometimes can face stigma if they speak openly about struggles with anxiety or depression. Knowing a loved one supports them can help, Hamp said.

"Always be there for your family members and for those around you," he said. "You know what's normal for a person, and if they don't look normal, don't be afraid to ask the question, 'Are you OK?' That is the start of helping a person. And be ready when they reply, 'No, I'm not.'"

The state recently launched PA VETConnect, a community-based outreach program for veterans to find behavioral and mental-health services and employment opportunities. Veterans in crisis or those who know one can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer at United Healthcare, agreed it's important to look out for signs of mental-health challenges in loved ones. That may mean an uncharacteristic disinterest in activities they usually enjoy, a change in sleep patterns or mentioning feelings of hopelessness. She added that it's important for people to seek help from a trusted health professional.

"Mental health is part of our health," she said. "It's a conversation you should be having with your primary-care physician when you go get your annual checkups, especially if you already have an established relationship. And it can be a really good place to start, and also take into context your other medical conditions."

According to the 2022 America's Health Rankings Senior Report from United Health Foundation, drug-related deaths increased by 149% for older adults in Pennsylvania over a 10-year period. Seventy-six percent of Pennsylvania's veterans are age 55 or older.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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