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Houston is home to about 300,000 veterans, the second highest population of veterans in the U.S. To support mental health for this population, a large number of community organizations offer a spectrum of services from one-to-one counseling to crisis lines, peer groups to yoga classes, retreats to service dogs.
John Roberts, vice president of Warrior Relations for the Wounded Warrior Project in Houston and a member of the U.S. Marine Corps for 14 years, encourages veterans to access these services and look for the right fit among the many options.
“As a veteran who has struggled, I have to say mental health in itself has stigma surrounding it, which could be a potential barrier to veterans seeking treatment,” he said. “Sometimes you have to try multiple things to find what is effective for you. Sometimes what the VA offers may not be what works for everybody. I was not a fan of traditional mental health treatment, but found a lot of healing in peer-to-peer fellowship — warriors helping warriors, people who understand what it’s like to wear the uniform — and retreat-based programs with like-minded veterans, all struggling with PTSD.”
Roberts is also a fan of mindfulness, something he practices daily. He’s also tried neural feedback and takes motorcycle rides with Rolling Odyssey, which offers group rides for wounded combat veterans, one of Wounded Warrior Project’s programs.
The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston recently hired more than 100 additional mental health providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other specialists to enhance the accessibility and breadth of mental health services. The hospital now has six full-time suicide-prevention coordinators and has been embedding mental health professionals in their primary care clinics, as well as in specialty clinics like cardiology and women’s health. About 25% of the new hires are nurse care managers, who check in weekly with patients being treated for depression. These nurses help explain medications and can answer questions about side effects or other issues.
Dr. Laura Marsh, executive director of mental health care program at DeBakey VA Medical Center, calls their services a “continuum of care” that emphasizes treatment, education and tools for coping. Though they have an inpatient residential program for intensive treatment, most programs and services are offered on an outpatient basis one-on-one, or in peer groups.
The center recently opened a new mental health building at the downtown campus. Additionally, Veterans Affairs runs Vet Centers, which are community-based counseling centers that provide a range of social and psychological services, including professional readjustment counseling for veterans.
“Mental health support is here for whatever is ailing you as early as possible,” Marsh said. “Depression is the most common condition we see, and we know depression puts people at highest risk for suicide. Veterans in general are at higher risk for suicide, but we know that when people get care, their risk goes way down.”
24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text 838255
Veteran’s crisis chat line, https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat
Be There Peer Support Military line: 844-357-7337 or text 844-357-7337
Mental health support
Many nonprofits are working in Texas to improve mental health among veterans. The following list is not comprehensive, but gives a sample of some of the places that may offer a needed resource. TexVet (www.texvet.org/counseling) is a great place to start, as it serves as a statewide clearinghouse for information for veterans.
Army Substance Abuse Program
Brain Injury Association of America — Texas Division
Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston
Crisis Intervention of Houston
Disability Rights Texas
The Dixon Center for Military and Veteran Services
Easter Seals Greater Houston
4 Paws for Ability
Grace After Fire
Heroes to Heroes
Impact A Hero
Lone Star Veterans Association
Lone Survivor Foundation
Mental Health Association of Houston
Military Veteran Peer Network
My Service Dog
NEADS Service Dogs
Paws for Heroes
Texas for Heroes
Wounded Warrior Project
For more information on the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, call 713-794-7561 or visit www.houston.va.gov/services/Mental_Health.asp.
For the Wounded Warrior Project, visit woundedwarriorproject.org.