Every time I’m out at any of our local events or just going out to the grocery store, I usually stop a veteran I see wearing a military hat to thank them for their service, and that usually leads to conversation, or I am stopped by veterans or their family members who have a question that’s on their mind.

Those questions, 80 percent of the time, usually have to do with veteran benefits or the lack of knowing where to find assistance to their problems. What is also very interesting are the number of non-military folks that stop me to ask why isn’t the VA or somebody, doing something about veteran suicide, homelessness or in-home care or addiction problems that our veterans and their families are faced with.

There are so many circumstances that align themselves as to why something is not functioning properly, especially in federal or state agencies. For instance the U.S. Dept. of Veteran Affairs employs over 375,000 folks and has net program costs of somewhere around $275 billion, and the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs is supported by a two-year budget of about $590 million. No matter how much money is spent or how programs are administered, there will always be some segment of that program that does not totally satisfy the projected outcomes to every person enrolled in that program. It may be that all possibilities to ensure a positive outcome were not thought of or could not be incorporated the benefit.

For instance, a study here in Oregon which was funded by the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs and the Oregon Health Authority, set out to inquire about the types and availability of Behavioral Health Services that were offered to the 310,000-plus veterans in Oregon. The main reason for this new study, among others, was that a recent state study on veteran health, wrote Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick, a columnist at the Register-Guard in Eugene, found “Oregon veterans may be at lower risk for depression or sadness, but they are more likely to die from suicide and opioid overdose than non-veterans”.

This study finds what I just mentioned above and that so many studies reveal, that no matter how all-encompassing a program is outlined, there are always those participants that will not reap the desired benefit of the mission of the program. Parafiniuk-Talesnick went on to report: “some of the notable findings include: 1 out of 3 veterans surveyed who felt they needed behavioral health care didn’t seek services because they felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Oregon veterans ages 18 – 34 are at the highest risk for suicide. Lane County has the second highest rate of veteran suicide of all Oregon counties. Specific needs and expectations of veteran subgroups vary in ways that affect how those veterans seek care. Tribal representatives report a need for services that meet cultural needs with an emphasis on a preference for traditional healing methods and peer support as the most important factors in care-seeking behavior for tribal veterans. Sexual harassment and assault impacts service members of all genders, including at least 50% of female veterans. Interviewees reported a need for more community-based, gender-specific options in Oregon, particularly for military sexual trauma.”

Parafiniuk-Talesnick also reported on the studies recommendations to help improve veteran care being: “That OHA, ODVA, and the VA Health Care Systems in Oregon should collaborate to develop a cohesive, well-researched, and targeted education and outreach effort to de-stigmatize behavioral health issues and treatment, OHA and ODVA are taking a statewide tour to learn more from particular communities over the next several months.”

To read Parafiniuk-Talesnick’s article “Oregon study finds that number of providers a significant issue for veteran Health”, go to Stars and Stripes and select “Veterans,” it was published August 24, 2019. Also on the subject of suicide please read the article “A difficult but needed Conversation” by Leslie Thompson, Editor of the Argus Observer, printed August 25, 2019 on the Argus Opinion Page. I would here mention that the continuing progress being made by our ODVA and the VA are certainly improving the care and we hope this progress will continue.

“The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.” Juliette Lewis.

Ronald Verini is a local veterans advocate who writes a weekly column for The Argus Observer. He can be contacted at (541) 889-1978, help@veteranadvocates.org or 180 W. Idaho Ave., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.

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