Memorial Day weekend is here, and we make time in our lives to honor our service women and men. As flags align our neighborhoods and are especially prominent in cemeteries throughout our country, Houston’s own National Veterans Cemetery will be decked out as hundreds gather in this sacred place to honor fallen heroes. Wreaths will adorn all the service members' headstones, and city officials will pay homage to those who gave so much for their country. Texas is second only to California in military/veteran population.
As mental health providers, we are reminded that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health concerns hover over our returning vets, and as many as 22 veterans on any given day take their own life. These “invisible wounds of war” beckon each of us to take action and commit some time to serve military families. As the national news calls attention to the gaps in services and funding problems in Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics in 26 cities, we as marriage and family therapists know how toxic the blame game can be in generating any positive change. We simply cannot afford to wait until investigators find out who is to blame for the latest shortage in services for veterans.
Funding shortfalls for mental health services for all Americans is not news and it is certainly not a surprise to thousands of veteran families who have lost more veterans to suicide than on the battlefield. Even with congressional support our professional organizations have been fighting for parity in health care reform, but waiting for legislative solutions will be too late for those suffering without hope. The time is now for us to attend to our veterans. If every clinician volunteered time providing pro bono services for an uninsured or underinsured veteran, we could be part of the solution to the high cost of modern warfare. Helping returning soldiers transition back to their families and healing deep divisions in families separated by prolonged or multiple deployments, could be our solemn vow this Memorial Day, this May, 2014 Mental Health Awareness Month. Partnering with Veteran groups, nonprofits, the VA, MHA, and our city, will turn our gratitude into social action.
Our May 9, 2014 HAMFT workshop featured seasoned clinicians who encouraged all of us to stay involved in our professional organization as they revisited our long established tradition of being innovators and creative practitioners who see a need and step up to meet that need. I am urging all of us to step up now. Make this Mental Health Awareness Month mean substantial support for soldiers, and make this Memorial Day more than a day to eat barbecue.