For many student veterans, the switch from life in the military to life on campus can be difficult.
Heidi Booth, a peer support specialist at Truman Veterans’ Hospital, didn’t know how she was going to make the adjustment after serving in the Army.
“I was lost, and I was scared,” she said. “I needed (to be around) veterans, but I didn’t know where they were.”
It’s a problem that MU and the veterans hospital tries to address by providing resources to help student veterans in the campus community.
Part of that is the annual Mental Health Summit that was held Tuesday at MU’s Memorial Student Union. The summit featured panels on resources for student veterans both on and off campus. Topics included suicide prevention and future research on the student-veteran experience.
At a panel focused on adjusting to civilian life and the struggles that returning service members face, David Hammer, a Vietnam War combat veteran and founder of All the Way Home, an organization aimed at helping veterans, talked about his experience with late-onset PTSD and how fellow veterans struggle with seeking help.
“The veterans cannot do it without the help of the community,” he said. “Without compassion or care, they’re walking a long, lonely road.”
A loss of identity is something that many veterans face when returning from service. Star Cathcart, operations director of Welcome Home Operations, an organization that aims to put an end to the homeless problem veterans face, spoke about about how therapy groups can help veterans gain insight about their problems.
Suicide is another mental health issue some returning veterans face, for there is often a stigma around seeking mental health treatment within the community.
According to data from by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate of veterans ages 18 to 34 substantially increased from 2005 to 2016, with the highest suicide rates in 2016 among all age groups at a rate of 45 suicides per 100,000 people.
According to mental health advocates within the community, reaching out to someone who you may feel is in danger of dying by suicide is incredibly important.
“Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” Paul Korte, mental health professional at the veterans hospital, said during a suicide prevention panel Tuesday.
The MU campus has a lot of resources available for student veterans that can assist with potential mental health problems they can encounter.
The MU Veterans Center, located in Room N-5 of the student union, offers mentoring, tutoring and help with housing, financial and personal issues to students and employees, according to its website. It also provides health and mental health referrals to the veterans hospital, specialists at the MU Student Health Center, the MU Counseling Center and the School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology.
Last month, MU opened the Mizzou Veterans Wellness Center, a collaboration between the veterans hospital and the MU’s School of Law Veterans Clinic, according to previous Missourian reporting. It is located in the School of Law’s Hulston Hall.
The veterans hospital provides health services for various minority groups, including women and members of the LGBTQ community, according to its website.
The hospital was recently named a leader in “LGBTQ Healthcare Equality” by the Human Rights Campaign, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Tuesday’s summit also focused on various off-campus mental health resources for veterans.
Samantha Moog, clinical case manager at the Family Access Center of Excellence or FACE, a center focused on improving access to mental health services for families, spoke about how FACE serves the entire family.
“FACE works with families when going through the process of finding out what (kind of help) works for them,” she said.
Susan O’Neill of the MU Psychology Clinic said there is a persistent misconception that veterans are hard to work with, but her experience could not be more different.
“They’re some of the kindest, smartest and bravest people I have encountered,” she said.
Supervising editors are Katherine Reed and Kaleigh Feldkamp.