Veterans say military should better address the mental health of soldiers


by Adrianna Hopkins

Posted on November 11, 2009 at 5:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 11 at 7:10 PM

In the midst of celebrations and ceremonies at veterans programs around Kentuckiana, one serious topic is being highlighted: the mental health of soldiers who serve our country.

Recently, many people have widely criticized the military's approach of silence regarding mental illness. In fact, WHAS 11's Adrianna Hopkins talked to several veterans who are criticizing the government for the lack of mental health support they receive seeing combat overseas.

During the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month, veterans gathered in New Albany, dancing to patriotic music and admiring Old Glory as she blew in the wind.

But the tone of the ceremony changed when the speaker prayed for the mental health of soldiers at home and those abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's a serious topic for many veterans, including three we talked to who all served during the Vietnam war.

"They don't have near the support that they ought to have. The federal government ought to take care of these boys. Who are they going to get to fight the next one if they don't take care of the ones they have now?" said Mike Holt.

Speaking from personal experience, they say the government can't afford to let the soldiers who've seen combat and spent time away from their families slip through the cracks. They say the government should do a better job serving the ones who serve us and step up the mental health support.

"I think they need to screen them more. You can't turn them loose like they did us and expect life to be normal. It will never be normal," said Melvin Jantzen.

"Trust me, I know what they're going through, we did it. When you're going from village to village and house to house and you're seeing kids mangled and maimed and you pick bodies up and put them in the foxhole that are in pieces... So yes, it needs to be done," said Chuck Simons.

"They don't want to support you and take care of you and groom you back to where you need to be, it's hard to lay down and sleep at night and get yourself together," said Mike Holt.

We put in a call to the Veterans Administration Hospital to speak with a doctor about this issue, but because of the holiday he was out of the office. A spokesperson for the VA Hospital says they have a lot of mental health programs and they're expanding their services to meet the needs of soldiers.

For Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences Services at the Louisville Veteran's Administration Hospital call: 502-287-5915.

WHAS 11's Adrianna Hopkins talked to Dr. David Walker of the local VA Hospital.

He says, they're working to meet the needs of soldiers, by reaching out to soldiers on active duty; also screening for PTSD; and by offering ongoing treatment for soldiers suffering from the disorder.

But he says, you can't make anyone do anything. And based on his own time spent on active duty, he  thinks the military is doing a good job of decreasing the stigma of mental illness.