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Veterans and Medical Professionals Talk Mental Health at IOP Forum

The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosted a conversation about the mental health crisis in the United States Military Wednesday evening. The panel discussed the mental health challenges that service members face.
The Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics hosted a conversation about the mental health crisis in the United States Military Wednesday evening. The panel discussed the mental health challenges that service members face. By Sachi Laumas
By Patil Djerdjerian and William G. Sykes, Contributing Writers

A panel of U.S. Army veterans, mental health professionals, and a film producer discussed the mental health challenges that service members face at a Harvard Institute of Politics forum on Wednesday evening.

Speakers included Jack Hammond, a retired brigadier general and CEO of the veteran mental health organization Home Base, Rosalind A. Green, a veteran and representative for the Wounded Warriors Project, and Jack Brooks, a clinical psychologist in the Women’s Trauma Recovery Team at the Veterans Affairs Boston.

The event was moderated by Dana H. Born, also a retired brigadier general and lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Beth Dolan, co-director of “Stranger at Home,” a documentary about the state of mental health among military veterans and their families.

Three clips from “Stranger at Home” played at different points during the event, highlighting the experience of real-life veterans suffering from mental health struggles.

Each clip introduced one of three key issues discussed by the panel: the stigmatization of mental health in the U.S. Armed Forces, challenges associated with veteran reintegration into civilian life, and potential solutions to these issues.

“I think there’s three big elements to stigma: one is society, because there’s certain taboos around mental health issues. Another one is within the military leadership. The third one is the individual,” Hammond said.

Panelists also emphasized the need for institutions and individuals to balance the mental health of veterans alongside physical health.

“You can have a perfect body, but if your mind is not there to help it function, then you can’t operate properly,” said Green.

The panelists presented several ideas for how to alleviate the mental health crisis among U.S. military personnel.

“Though there is no one solution,” Dolan said that in order to put “mental health on equal parity with physical health,” the military could introduce a mental health division to address the issue “systemically.”

Brooks also discussed the need to provide timely mental health care for veterans in need. “I do think that a huge policy change would just be better funding for us to have more staff in the VA system,” she said. Brooks claimed that preexisting sources of “community care” tend to focus on physical treatment rather than specialized mental health care for veterans.

“The closest therapists to you who have an opening may not know anything about the military, they may not know anything about veterans, they may not be specialized in the problem that someone has,” she added.

For veterans experiencing suicidal ideation, Hammond advocated for them to be able to seek immediate care at any medical facility.

“You go to care, you get the care, wherever the care’s available — regardless,” he said. “That’s a policy decision that needs to be made so it’s immediate access with absolutely no barrier to care.”

Dolan concluded the event by inviting the audience to sign a petition calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to create a Mental Health Corps for veterans.

“People ask us, ‘What can we do?’ Well, you can take an actionable step,” she said.

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