Veterans face higher mental health risk during the pandemic, study says

Veterans face higher mental health risk during the pandemic, study says

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a mental strain on many people. But veterans have a higher risk for mental health challenges, especially if they have prior mental or physical wounds.

While 79.9% of veterans surveyed said there are people in their lives they can depend on when they need help and 68.8% of the veterans said they know where to go for help, social distancing hurt a significant percentage of wounded veterans, both mentally and physically, according to an annual survey conducted in 2020 by the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).

The survey also revealed the following:

  • Over 60% feel more disconnected from family, friends or the community.
  • More than half (51.9%) agreed their mental health is worse and almost half (48.9%) said their physical health is worse.
  • Almost 70% experienced delays or cancellations with physical health care appointments and 51% with mental health appointments.

The survey indicated that many wounded veterans face long-term effects of their mental and physical injuries every day, which can be compounded by the pandemic environment. Another report from the WWP reiterated that veterans experiencing PTSD, depression, loneliness or suicidal ideation are significantly more likely to suffer a COVID-19-related quality of life burden.

Erich Roush, a psychologist at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital, Wauwatosa, WI., said veterans already face specific barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health care, because of a longstanding stigma of help-seeking behavior in the military.

“Any other barriers brought on by external forces (such as COVID) would add onto prior barriers, making help-seeking behavior even less likely,” Roush said.

COVID also makes social connection more challenging, and many veterans already struggle with social connection after military service, says Roush. Having less connection will likely result in worse emotional health issues since it’s one of the most powerful coping mechanisms.

“I believe the pandemic is putting relationship and social skills to the test,” says Roush, who is also an Army veteran and co-founder of Aurora Health Care’s Veterans Retraining Program (VRP), a program that was created by and is run by veterans, and provides mental health services to veterans.

Respecting veterans’ autonomy is essential — if they say no, respect their decision and consider asking again later. When they’re ready and say yes, their care options should be readily available and feasible.

“We have built a number of free support groups that are accessible to any veteran and their support system,” says Roush, noting that all but one support group is virtual. “We have fully embraced the virtual platform because it’s consistent and reliable during these chaotic times. Veterans in our program can experience up to 15 hours per week of virtual engagement through the variety of therapy classes, support groups and individual appointments.”

Now is the perfect time to make an appointment with a primary care physician. Whether you live in Illinois or Wisconsin, it’s easy to find a doctor near you. 




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  1. Thank you for bringing this subject to the public attention

  2. God bless our veterans. They have dealt with so much.

  3. Thank you for the work you are doing. I’m wondering how this work is coordinated with Veterans care at the VA hospital, and if so, how that works.

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Sarah Kennedy

Sarah Kennedy is a digital content specialist with Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a managing editor for a B2B publication and a digital editor for various websites. She studied journalism at Columbia College Chicago.