WHY UNEXPECTED VOICES?
Unexpected Voices has been selected as the project title to represent the lost voices of the veteran community, and those who have lost their fight to mental health. WE want to be their voice, echoing onward and into the nation's conscience. The name further refers to the many who speak out on the injustices that our veterans face; veterans themselves, their families, and those that care for the veteran community. Unexpected Voices encapsulates our pursuit of creating a national conversation and therefore action to address the issues with mental health care for veterans.
Veteran suicide is currently a silent phenomenon in this country but is a preventable tragedy. Unexpected Voices is an advocacy campaign to address this tragedy by shining a spotlight on the ignored systematic benefit issues veterans face post-military service, which is often a contributing factor to veteran suicide. Our program is specifically centered on improving veteran access to mental health care by breaking down the procedural barriers and stigmas that exist.
To do this we utilize our unique position between the veteran community and the entertainment community to provide a louder voice to the numerous issues veterans face in accessing and receiving adequate mental health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Motivated by the countless accounts of the members of our military community about their struggles in accessing care, we hope to bring about actionable change in how the Department of Veterans Affairs and the larger community treatment and care for veterans with mental health issues.
Since industrial nations have waged war against each other societies have recognized the invisible wounds that veterans of conflicts bring home. In the time of the American Civil War, they referred to it as "Soldiers Heart", during the Great War "Shell Shock" became the common name, and in the Second World War, it became known as "Battle Fatigue" or "Combat Fatigue". In modern conflicts, PTSD has come to represent the impact that traumatic experiences in military service have on a person’s mental state.
Despite the long recognition of the invisible wounds veterans carry, veterans in our country continue to face institutional and societal barriers to access and receive adequate care for their mental health. Veterans have long struggled to overcome the burdensome, complicated, and bureaucratic processes required to receive benefits from the Veterans Administration. Beyond this, veterans must overcome the societal stigmas that surround mental health which create unimaginable and subsequent harmful consequences. Due to these failures, too many veterans are unable to access the care they need to live dignified, fulfilling lives in comparison to the civilians in the country they have defended.
For our nation's Veterans, the Veterans’ Administration (VA) represents the single largest health care entity and the federal government's method of providing the care due to them for their service. The VA has one of the largest budgets for federal agencies annually, receiving $68 billion to oversee the delivery of care to more than 9 million enrolled Veterans. Furthermore, the VA employs 322,030 full-time health care professionals and support staff at 1,255 health care facilities, including 170 VA Medical Centers and 1,074 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity. The sheer size, wealth, and depth that this system has should allow it to adequately care for all veterans who require services. The 9 million enrolled veterans represent about a third of the veteran population of just over 20 million in this county. That leaves two-thirds of the veteran population without VA care or not enrolled to receive VA care. The high number of veterans not enrolled with the VA occurs due to a multitude of reasons, such as some veterans not requiring care, some veterans failing to qualify for such care, others choosing not to use the VA, and some who have tried to access care but have been denied.
Though all these reasons have their own and varied causes, we have identified the claims process as a common point of several of the reasons veterans are not able to access VA care. The claims process is a complicated, laborious, and ill-suited process that can often be the reason veterans are denied care or do not attempt to seek care with the VA. According to one study, about 30% of claims are denied, of these, they found that 60% were denied due to an error.
Demonstrating the nature of the claims process is the current evaluation form for claims for service-connected for PTSD which provides three rows of 60 characters statement for a veteran to describe and defend their need for care due to PTSD. Though seemingly straightforward, such a small space to adequately present and explain one's PTSD symptoms and causes is challenging. This is just one form of the many that a veteran must commit time and effort to, to defend their need for care from the VA. As this limited example demonstrates our veterans face poorly designed, complicated, and challenging processes to access and secure the mental health care they need and deserve.
The consequence of the inaccessibility of veteran mental health care due to barriers of entry is this country’s high rate of veteran suicide.
According to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, veteran suicide occurs at a rate one and half times higher than the national rate, this is despite the rising rate of suicide in the general population and a decreasing veteran population. This statistic represents the on average twenty veterans that lose their lives to suicide a day in the United States. The high rate of veteran suicide described here is the clearest representation of the failure of the current mental health care for veterans. Our project focuses on two elements of this larger failure relating to access, the claims process for the VA and societal stigmas.
We believe that there are key changes that can be made to reduce the burden on veterans to receive mental health care and therefore preventing veteran suicide. Our solutions to some of the issues identified are:
• Reform the initial claims process forms for service-connected mental health. Reformed entry form and process should place the burden of proof onto the VA rather than the veteran, or at least reduces the undue burden that many veterans face in having their claim accepted, particularly relating to mental health as an invisible wound which often is more difficult to demonstrate.
• Influence society views on mental health issues so that one recognizes the importance of treatment and removes the stigma associated with mental health care. The stigmas around mental health care can often lead to the individual not seeking care, by removing these we can make sure we are a healthier society, including our veterans.
To advocate for the changes we are seeking we provide a louder voice for Veterans Mental Health Care by highlighting the issues with the current system that are commonly known and either accepted or ignored. We provide a louder voice by cultivating relationships with influential members of the community to raise the profile of the issues faced by the veteran’s community to national media and the public.
In so doing the attention and therefore action of congress will be ensured, as their constituents and the national media call for action to address the deficiencies present in the current Mental Health Care for Veterans.
By providing a voice to the voiceless we seek to end the ultimate result of failed mental health care, veterans suicide.