Our veterans and their families have given so much; some making the ultimate sacrifice. However, for many of our service members who return home, the battle often continues with long-term mental health issues. From PTSD and anxiety to sleep disorders and substance abuse, many of our brave men and women in uniform suffer the inevitable result of prolonged exposure to war and conflict.
Fortunately, there are many community organizations and tremendous resources in New Hampshire, such as Hero Pups, Swim With A Mission (SWAM), inpatient/outpatient mental health facilities and programs, such as the Inpatient Program Portsmouth Regional Hospital (PHP) and a host of veteran specific care organizations, providing the best in holistic mental health care to veterans and their families. It takes a village of loving volunteer mothers and fathers, community organizations, generous philanthropists, medical professionals and the support of our elected officials to meet the mental health needs of veterans and reduce the stigma that so often prevents veterans to seek out these vital mental health services.
It’s very personal to me. As the mother of a wounded veteran who served in Afghanistan, I founded Hero Pups on the belief that since our heroes have already given so much, it’s the least we can do to provide them with a companion for the help lead a happier, burden-free life. We are proud that 100% of funds are used to acquire, train and pair service dogs with veterans and first responders facing traumatic service-related challenges to increase their independence and peace of mind, as well as to facilitate the recovery of beneficiaries by helping them regain confidence and independence. Services like ours are essential as veterans readjust to life at home and since starting this organization I have been touched by the outpouring of support from individuals and organizations across the Granite State. For example, Portsmouth Regional Hospital held its annual car show and dedicated 100% of the profits to Hero Pups.
After:‘A world that doesn’t understand’: New Hampshire veterans tell how they reached out for help
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “fewer than 50% of returning veterans in need receive mental health (MH) treatment, and the 2021 Annual Veteran Suicide Prevention Report indicates that approximately 17 veterans have died. by suicide every day in 2019.” Additionally, “The National Veterans Foundation reports that many of the crisis calls counselors deal with begin with issues of isolation and loneliness.” Reducing the stigma around mental health so that our veterans seek help and access these vital resources is an essential first step in this process – a sentiment shared by my contemporaries during a recent virtual roundtable at which I participated in Veterans Mental Health Care in New Hampshire.
During the hour-long panel discussion hosted by Swim With A Mission, titled “A Virtual Community Conversation on Veterans’ Mental Health Care in Granite State,” I was fortunate to be joined by experts in their fields of service to highlight the importance of overcoming stigma and reducing barriers to accessing mental health services. The conversation highlighted that community support and resources to help veterans and their families were shared from the unique perspective of the panelists.
The panel included Susan Stearns, Executive Director, NAMI New Hampshire; Justin Looser, New Hampshire Behavioral Health Administrative Market Director, HCA Healthcare – Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Parkland Medical Center in Derry and Frisbie Memorial Hospital in Rochester; Stephanie Higgs, clinical director, Easterseals Veterans Count New Hampshire; and hosted by my dear friend, Phil Taub, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Swim With A Mission. It was heartening to hear different perspectives from like-minded and dedicated mental health representatives.
Phil Taub’s closing remarks said it best by highlighting what each of us can do to help those who have served, “If you are watching this or listening to that, and wondering what you can do to help – There are many things you can do. You can volunteer with a veterans service organization. If you know a veteran, check them out, call them, and ask how they are doing. S if he opens up to you and tells you that he is in pain and needs help, reassure him that he is not alone and that he can ask for help. They deserve the help and support they need.
It takes a multi-pronged approach to reduce stigma and barriers to accessing care for our veterans and Hero Pups is just a small part of the larger tapestry of recovery resources. Fortunately, I am not alone. As this panel emphasized, with dedicated care, a servant’s heart, and a dedication to collaboration, we can have a meaningful and real impact for our veterans and their families. As another example of this collaboration, I would like to draw your attention to a recent article by Howard Altschiller in the Portsmouth Herald, titled “A world that does not understand”: New Hampshire veterans tell how they asked for help. Mr. Altschiller highlights not only the difficulties veterans face when they return home, but also personal stories of how they seek help, packed with information about groups like ours. and others available to help in this often long and arduous process.
If you are or know a veteran in crisis, the confidential Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7, and as the site notes, you do not need to be registered for benefits. VA or health care to connect.
Laura Barker is the founder of Hero Pups and the mother of a veteran.
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