The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that more than 100,00 veterans have sought treatment for mental illness since the war in Afghanistan started in 2001.
The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says substance abuse, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental illness is a contributing factor in veterans making up 12% of the adult homeless population in the U.S.
WMUK's Gordon Evans spoke with Ministry with Community of Kalamazoo Program Director Christine Wine. Ministry with Community is a walk-in shelter, open to anyone. Wine says the clients include veterans. It's hard to say how many, since the organization tries to eliminate as many barriers as possible. Wine says that means they don't ask a lot of information when someone comes in the door. Two representatives from the Veterans Administration do come to Ministry with Community once a week to meet with veterans.
Wine says a major stigma remains attached to mental illness in general. She says it's worse if people have sought out help before and had a bad experience, or don't have insurance to help pay for mental health services. Wine says Ministry with Community can help people, including veterans navigate the system and get the help they need.
Last month a veteran who had been treated for mental health problems went on a shooting spree at Fort Hood Texas. Specialist Ivan Lopez killed three soldiers and wounded 16 others before taking his own life. Wine says instead of waiting for an explosion to happen, people should get treatment beforehand. She says options for treatment are limited and many people can't afford the treatment that is available.
Wine says if she could "dream big," she would want similar training for all human services agencies to allow more collaboration. Wine says that would allow for better treatment of people with mental illness.
While there are societal costs to untreated mental illness, Wine says the cost to that individual is the most important. "We're a community and we're supposed to be looking out for each other."