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CommonHealth ACTION Releases Study Findings On Veterans' Mental Health: Intends to Spur a National Dialogue to Foster "Culture of Equity"

CommonHealth ACTION

(Washington, DC) October 23, 2014 - At a symposium held at the True Reformer Building in Washington, DC, CommonHealth ACTION, a national public health organization, released findings from a year-long national study of barriers that U.S. military veterans face when they access programs, services, and supports directly and indirectly related to their mental health.  The symposium brought together stakeholders from veteran-serving organizations, philanthropy, leaders of community-based organizations, veterans, and concerned community members.

The men and women who have served our country have been profoundly shaped by their military experiences, including recruitment, training, and socialization.  While many of those experiences build valuable skills and leadership abilities that benefit civilian employers and social networks, others are highly stressful, regardless of whether service members have been deployed overseas or seen combat.  In many cases, stigma and organizational culture in both civilian and military populations inhibit veterans from seeking support to manage those stressors.  In other cases, support services may not be accessible or appropriate for the increasingly diverse veteran population.  As an example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs projects that while the veteran population will decline from approximately 22 million to 14 million by 2040, the proportion of veterans of color will continue to grow, mirroring demographic shifts in the overall U.S. population.

"As a national public health organization, we believe that each person's health is a production of society," stated Natalie S. Burke, President and CEO of CommonHealth ACTION.  "This study gave us an important opportunity to give voice to the challenges that many of our veterans face."

This study identified challenges and opportunities facing veterans today with a particular focus on 12 veteran subpopulations.  These veterans belong to groups, such as women or communities of color, who have historically experienced oppression as well as those with certain post-military experiences, by choice or by circumstance, who encounter challenges as they interact with systems and institutions designed to support them.  The methodology included a literature review and media scan; key informant interviews and a convening of advisors; and original data collection through focus groups and a national survey.  In the report findings, CommonHealth ACTION identifies opportunities for each of the subpopulations to achieve equity through policies and programs, strategies to implement policies and programs, and research questions to spark further dialogue. 

"When we started the work, we planned to gather and share information on models, programs, and services," Burke continued. "Not far into the process, we recognized that our focus and assumptions needed to expand and change in order to present an accurate and meaningful depiction of the veteran experience; one that focused on inequities within the veteran population, their root causes, and possible solutions." 

While mental health is often perceived as the absence of illness or disorder, CommonHealth ACTION adopts the World Health Organization's 2007 definition of mental health: a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her and his community.

Achieving equity for veterans requires society to understand the experiences of subpopulations that may experience vulnerability when interacting with institutions and systems as they seek services to support their health and mental well-being.  Even veterans who do not currently belong to a group that experiences oppression and discrimination will eventually belong to at least one subpopulation-the elderly-assuming longevity.  CommonHealth ACTION focuses on these subpopulations because they believe that an equity approach will improve quality of life for all veterans.  

"CommonHealth ACTION recommends shifting the national narrative from its primary focus on meeting the basic human needs of veterans to a comprehensive, inclusive, veteran-led dialogue that focuses on creating greater equity in our systems, policies, and culture for all veterans," Burke concluded.  "To do that, we need further research on the assets, experiences, and specific needs, of our increasingly diverse veteran population."

Mental Health