How to Help a Veteran Get the Support They Need

Leaving military service can be planned (like retirement) or it may be sudden—for example, if a service member gets injured. The transition out of service can be hard for anyone, even if it’s what the person wants. If you notice a difference in a veteran after service, it might be worth talking to them about what they are experiencing. 

“Normal” is different for everyone, but there are signs a veteran you care about may need help. Some examples are sleep problems, feeling down or depressed, becoming angry easily or always being on edge, difficulties at work or school, problems with relationships, excessive drinking or drug use, or reckless driving. 

Why can’t we seem to talk about this? 

It can be hard to tell someone—even someone you know really well—that you think they need help. It can be difficult to say what you mean if you are worried. Also, it can be hard for someone to listen if they are anxious, nervous or even angry. 

What can I do or say? 

Mental health care is helpful only if a service member or veteran makes that decision for themself. Someone can accept making changes only when they truly feel there is a choice. Here are some tips for you to make it easier for a veteran you care about to get help: 

  • Express your support or concern. Try saying, “I know things are not going how you like right now, but know that I’d like to help.” 
  • Set a time to talk about your concerns so your loved one feels prepared. 
  • Bring up your concerns and then find another time to talk again, instead of trying to resolve everything at once. 
  • You don’t need to ask about what happened. If you do not have military experience, you can say something like, “I’m sure you went through things while serving that would be hard for me to understand, so maybe talking to someone at the VA or a Vet Center might help?” 
  • “Demanding” someone seek help can backfire, making them less likely to go for help. 
  • Avoid using threatening language or making ultimatums. Try not to say, “You need to go for help, or else.” But it is okay to let someone know how their behavior is affecting you. 
  • Talk about choices. You can say, “I know it’s your call whether you go to see somebody, but if there’s something I can do to help, let me know.” 

Coaching Into Care 

The VA has a program called Coaching Into Care to help family and friends of veterans. A coach will help you figure out what to say to your loved one and to help get them into substance use or mental health care if needed. 

Each family is different. Some people may need just one call, and others may find it helpful to have several calls. Coaching Into Care is a free service, and it takes privacy very seriously. Every aspect of your experience—from first call to services—is kept private, except in cases where personal safety may be involved.  

Call Coaching Into Care at 1-888-823-7458.  

Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Categories: Caregiving, Mental health