ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Many veterans around the country are struggling with mental health and local experts say more action is needed.
“Mental health is probably the biggest problem in the veterans’ community,” said Joe Chenelly, National Executive Director of American Veterans. “And it’s a place that our federal government continuously falls short.”
American Veterans is a congressionally chartered veteran services organization. Chenelly says there is still a problem getting access to care. Part of the reason is the lack of resources but also acknowledgement.
“Over the past decade or two we’ve really come to recognize the problem,” said Nick Stefanovic, Director of Monroe County Veteran Services. “Before that, it wasn’t really recognized as a significant issue.”
Stefanovic tells News 8 the VA is finding value with methods like experimental treatments and trials with the use of MDMA, psilocybin, and marijuana in the treatment of veterans with mental health struggles.
“The VA has more traditional types of mental health care. At the county we’ve taken a different approach,” said Stefanovic. “I think the trick to it is to get non-traditional. Especially as we move on, we’re finding the value behind holistic methods.”
One non-standard approach is the Monroe County eco therapy program which uses nature for healing. The program began during Covid and was paused due to personnel issue. However, Stefanovic is hopeful that the program will begin again in early 2024.
Chenelly says that a lot of community organizations are well-equipped for getting assistance for the un-housed but are lacking immediate resources for veterans struggling with suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
“Our veterans make a lot of sacrifices and all they ask for in return is that the government keeps its promise to provide healthcare for injuries, diseases, and illnesses that may have incurred because of their service to this country,” said Chenelly.
In 2020, there were 6,146 Veteran suicides according to the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. The 2021 numbers are expected to come out next week and, according to Chenelly, they are expected to increase.
If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call 988 to seek help.