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To reduce mental health stigma among veterans, higher education must be the catalyst

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By BY CARL SHEPERIS AND ADAM SUCH

In 2014, 55 U.S. military service members died fighting in Afghanistan. Today, an average of 20 veterans lose their lives every day to suicide, according to a recent report by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

We do a spectacular job of providing our citizens with resources they need to keep our country safe. But the moment these brave men and women come home, there is a profound opportunity to better support their adjustment back to civilian life.

A recent Morning Consult survey from the University of Phoenix, College of Social Sciences, demonstrated that misconception and stigma complicate the support for veteran mental health. According to the survey, one in five Americans believe people with mental illnesses are dangerous and 24 percent said they wouldn’t tell anyone if they had a mental illness. Furthermore, 10 percent of Americans don’t believe that mental illness is a real medical problem. These findings have considerable implications for reaching veterans who need services.

Last year, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Billinto law, which made information on suicide prevention more easily accessible to veterans. It instituted a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members, opened up incentives to encourage more people to work at the VA and established an annual evaluation of VA mental health and suicide-prevention programs.

This bill is certainly a positive step forward. But that piece of legislation is just one step toward solving a systemic crisis where the issues stretch far beyond just the VA.

We believe that higher education can play a larger role in changing misconceptions and reducing stigma related to veteran mental health. In order to begin to make headway, educators must stand as role models committed to honoring and serving this next greatest generation of veterans as they continue to serve; transition; and become members of the greater civilian community. Educational institutions must make concerted efforts to have a meaningful impact on the lives of veterans, the lives of their families, their communities, and generations to come.

For example, universities are already beginning to embrace this challenge by providing veteran resources on campus, as well as mental health clinics. University of Phoenix’s annual mental health symposium is evidence of our commitment to raise awareness of mental health issues and advancing change in mental health systems. In addition to mental health services, University of Phoenix strives to provide comprehensive support for service members by helping veterans understand and provide access to:

1. Educational benefits they earned in service; access to programs that accommodate unique scheduling needs; and the tools that promote their ability to succeed and contribute in a meaningful and purposeful way;

2. An opportunity to understand and make smart choices about how to utilize their education benefits to obtain the necessary and critical skills, education, and training so they can continue their journey of selfless service;

3. An opportunity to grow and demonstrate the incredible and valuable skills they learned in service to this country; and

4. The resources that facilitate their ability to make an impact; to improve their lives and the lives of their families; and to strengthen our communities now and for future generations.

It is through these shared commitments; through partnerships of likeminded individuals and organizations; and through engaged communities that we can have an impact on the mental health issues that many veterans face. By calling attention to these issues and developing resources, we can truly honor and support the service of the men and women of our armed forces.

Like the Clay Hunt bill, educational efforts toward raising consciousness are just beginning steps toward a solution for the mental health crisis in our armed forces. Please join us in taking the next steps for our veterans.

Sheperis is program dean of the College of Social Sciences, University of Phoenix and Adam Such is vice president of Military and Veteran Affairs, University of Phoenix, retired Lieutenant Colonel

Source: The Hill