Remembering Veterans Struggling with Addiction on Memorial Day
Memorializing soldiers who had died in combat took on major significance in the United States in the aftermath of the Civil War, and only became more important as the US entered other conflicts throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries. Congress officially declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971, during the Vietnam War. Memorial Day is a day to remember the men and women who have died while serving in all branches of the armed forces.
Many millions of Americans have Memorial Day off of work and use their extra time for a variety of activities, from vacations to spring cleaning. However, it is also important to remember the millions of former service members who are still alive, many of whom are locked in a new life-threatening battle: addiction to drugs and alcohol.
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The Scope of the Problem
Although veterans have developed substance abuse issues during or after their time in combat for as long as there have been wars, the issue really came to the forefront of the American consciousness in the wake of the Vietnam War. At the time, the Culture Wars were raging at home, and drug use was a major issue in those conflicts. Vietnam veterans returning home addicted to heroin, marijuana, and other drugs they had encountered in Southeast Asia, were a major concern for military and civilian authorities alike. Tragically, the problem has continued ever since.
Some researchers have concluded that 1 in 15 Veterans struggle have struggled with a substance abuse disorder in the past year, a total of 1.5 million people. The number of veterans who suffer from a substance abuse disorder at some point in their lives (not just in the past year) is significantly higher, although it is harder to get accurate statistics, especially for World War II and Korean War veterans. Considering that addiction does not only impact the addicted individual themselves, but also their friends and families, the number of Americans who are affected by veteran addiction is very high indeed.
What Can I Do to Help?
If you are interested in helping to alleviate the problem of veterans and substance abuse, there are many ways you can do so.
Donate your time and money.
There are many organizations that help veterans who are trying to overcome their addiction issues. These include government, university, religious, and charity groups, among others. Many organizations that are not specifically focused on substance abuse or veterans provide support, including groups dedicated to helping the homeless or rural poor for example, dedicate substantial resources to this problem.
One thing that all of these organizations have in common is a need for more funding and more volunteers, and your contributions in either regard will be greatly appreciated. If you are looking for an organization, an excellent place to start is by checking in with local veterans groups or by talking with veterans themselves.
Learn more, and then share what you have learned.
Education and awareness are two of the most critical tools for solving any problem, and veteran substance abuse is no different. There are many resources that you can use to educate yourself on the problem. In addition to the Internet, public libraries, universities, veteran’s organizations, and substance abuse programs all have a wealth of resources available. However, one of the best ways to learn more is to talk directly with veterans who are either currently struggling with addiction or who are in recovery. You will find that many are very willing to share their stories with you.
Once you learn more, share what you know. The more people that know about how serious the problem is, the more people who can do something about it. While most are aware that many veterans suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction, few are aware of just how many do. Once educated, many are willing to volunteer their own time, encourage others to do the same, donate money, or take political action, magnifying the benefits.
Perhaps there’s no more impactful way to help a veteran struggling with addiction issues than to simply be there for them. Addiction is a lonely disease, and it gets lonelier the longer it progresses. On top of that, many veterans feel a deep underlying loneliness completely separate from their substance abuse issues. It is very common for veterans to return from service and feel disconnected and isolated from those they love, who they are afraid will no longer understand them or what they have been through.
Simply by providing companionship, a shoulder to cry on, or even just a set of friendly ears, you can make a huge difference for a veteran. Even if they don’t feel willing or able to open up to you right away, just knowing that you are there to support them and that you are willing to try is very helpful. Many addiction experts believe that connection is critical to overcoming substance abuse disorders, and you can be part of that connection.