Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sharing Experiences And Accessing Resources Helps Vets Reconnect

(NAPSI)-There are 1.7 million men and women who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, with even more Americans enlisting in the military as the national economy continues to suffer. Among those military service members who have returned, nearly 20 percent-300,000 in all-report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression, yet only slightly more than half seek treatment, according to a 2008 RAND Corporation study.

Untreated mental health conditions can cause or aggravate other debilitating problems in the veterans' community, including high rates of unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, divorce and suicide. As recently reported, suicide rates among the Army are the highest they have been in three decades. To address these issues and help ease the transition of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans returning home, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Ad Council launched a national public service campaign, which directs veterans to a new social networking Web site, www.CommunityofVeterans.org, where veterans can connect with each other, listen, share their experiences and access resources, all in a forum exclusive to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Research shows that veterans of these two wars face unprecedented and unique challenges. For example, while veterans of World War II represented 12 percent of the U.S. population, less than 1 percent of the current population has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, more than 60 percent of Americans say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "never," "hardly ever" or "sometimes" have an impact on their daily lives, according to a recent survey by IAVA and the Ad Council. By maintaining relationships and communicating regularly with others who have shared experiences, veterans are better able to reconnect with their friends, families and communities.

"When I returned home from Iraq, it was frustrating to feel like no one could understand what I had been through, not even my family and closest friends. I felt tremendously isolated and soon those emotions turned to anger and resentment," said Bryan Adams, a veteran of Iraq and a Purple Heart recipient. "Connecting with other vets who had similar experiences was the most valuable way for me to heal and move forward with my life."

Through the Community of Veterans, IAVA and Ad Council are hoping to encourage veterans to share their experiences with mental health injuries in a judgment-free environment. Many veterans avoid seeking help because of the stigma around seeking treatment or being diagnosed with a mental illness. Supporting each other and knowing that they are not alone is an important step the community can take to help overcome that stigma.

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