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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans with Mental Health and Addiction Problems Belong in Treatment

In the late 60's and early 70's many soldiers returning from the Vietnam War came back home with mental health problems. Making the matter worse, many of those same soldiers had serious addiction problems as a result of trying to deal with what they experienced in war. Vietnam veterans did not receive the care that they needed forcing them into ineffective mental health clinics and jails; there were not many options for drug treatment in those days. Countless veterans suffered from our lack of understanding of mental disorders, including and especially addiction. Forty years later and America finds itself in a similar predicament, staggering numbers of soldiers are coming back from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with serious prescription drug problems, either to deal with pain or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This wave of addictions has veterans winding up in jails all over the country. Veterans with mental health and addiction problems belong in treatment, jails only exasperate the issue; if the United States does not provide its war veterans with adequate treatment, then we will see a repeat of history.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) released a report showing that current practices and policies in the United States has needlessly sent large numbers of handicapped and addicted veterans to jail. The report points out the advantages of drug courts and that treatment is always the better option. Drug and alcohol treatment has a much greater track record of keeping recidivism to a minimum. Guy Gambill, a long-time veterans' advocate, suggests, "In the aftermath of Vietnam, self-medication and its collateral behaviors landed tens of thousands of veterans in prison. This time, let’s be smarter than the problem". Unfortunately, many young veterans coming back from the war who get into trouble do not take advantage of drug court if it is offered; most states do not even have veteran drug court available.

Clearly, action needs to be taken to help or at least offer help to veterans coming back from the war addicted to prescription drugs and other substances. There is no reason why any non-violent addict should spend time in jail; the science is there to back up treatment as being more effective. The military will not provide any form of maintenance programs for their soldiers addicted to opiates despite the evidence world wide to support drugs like Suboxone and Methadone. What is certain is that the military still has a long way to go before soldiers and other veterans are adequately cared for and treated properly, hopefully this report will open peoples' eyes.

Today's post is written to honor our Veterans.

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