Veteran explains how community members can ask for help
As COVID-19 continues to affect many communities in Washington, some groups have been disproportionately affected by the physical, emotional and mental toll of the pandemic. One of those groups is made up of veterans.
We spoke with U.S. Army Veteran Paul Fuller, now a full-time STAT (Critical Care) Nurse at Central Washington Hospitals and Clinics in Wenatchee, about some of the unique challenges veterans face during the pandemic. In the military, Paul trained as a medic and traveled with troops for 14 months while stationed in Iraq. He went on to obtain a nursing degree from the University of Washington and worked as both an emergency room (ER) and intensive care unit (ICU) nurse before becoming a STAT nurse.
Paul has first-hand experience rebuilding a life after military service – and strives to help other veterans and service members in his community do the same.
How has the pandemic affected veterans?
There will be a difference in how veterans of different ages and generations handle this time. For example, Vietnam veterans are going to be more directly affected physically due to pre-existing conditions and their age. However, the detrimental effects of isolation are the same for all age groups, and isolation has increased dramatically during the pandemic.
Are Veterans More Vulnerable to Increased Mental Health Problems During the Pandemic?
Definitively. One of the main problems is that it is difficult to get in-person appointments for treatment. Sure, phone and video appointments are an option, but nothing compares to in-person interactions.
Do you think that an interruption in health care due to the pandemic will cause veterans to stop care altogether?
I think it depends on how a person reacts to the trauma. Usually people pull out or reach out and it’s really hard to reach someone who has pulled out. I just hope these people can count on other veterans or others for support right now.
Have Veteran Suicide Rates Increased Due To The Pandemic?
A few soldiers I know have committed suicide in the past year. I don’t know the details, so I can’t say it’s directly related to COVID-19, but I didn’t hear of deaths like this before COVID-19. I think isolation due to the pandemic has increased suicide rates in my community. This is why it is so important for veterans to seek help. If you experience difficulty at any point and need quick assistance, contact the Veterans Crisis Line. This line connects veterans in crisis, their families and friends with qualified and caring staff from the Department of Veterans Affairs via a confidential and free hotline, online chat or text message.
Veterans and their families can dial 1-800-273-8255 and dial 1; chatting on the Internet; or text 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
How can veterans find other supports?
Veterans who are more Internet prone can easily find veterans groups and support centers with a quick Google search. They can also find resources from Veterans Affairs, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense – they all have so much to offer. These sites also have numbers that veterans can call to connect with someone who can guide them to local resources in person.
Less tech-savvy veterans can still contact Veterans Affairs by calling 800-698-2411 or visit their local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) locations for help and support as well.
Connecting with a local veterans community is certainly the best scenario for sustained support.
Are there any coping mechanisms veterans can use at home if they are having difficulty?
I have found that mindfulness meditation and just clearing my mind in the moment can be really helpful. This, combined with other cognitive behavioral health therapies, can be a great way to resolve issues.
It’s about finding what works best for you. The VA has compiled resources to deal with the pandemic. The Washington State Department of Health also has a list of mental health resources for anyone living in Washington.
It is well documented that the COVID-19 vaccine can be effective in preventing COVID-19. Why is there still hesitation about vaccines among veterans?
I think this is the same as the reasons why some veterans are reluctant to do anything about government. We have been part of the bureaucracy and understand how frustrating it can be, and many veterans are suspicious of the government.
Additionally, many veterans are young and fit and do not consider themselves to be in the high risk category. They may therefore think that they do not need the vaccine. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. You have no way of knowing how your body will react to illness.
I hope veterans continue to listen to medical professionals and realize that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is much higher than the risk of side effects from vaccines.
What would you say to a veteran who is reluctant to get the vaccine?
I would remind them of the reasons they enlisted in the military: We love our country and its people. And we want to maintain and protect our way of life and our freedom for ourselves and future generations.
If we really care about our country, the best thing we can do is get vaccinated to help protect people in our communities. The vaccine is a bulletproof vest for the virus – it protects you and those around you.