I like that you give ways that vets, uneducated in mental health matters, can give such help to other vets. But then you go on to talk about training vets in the mental health field. Gaining any mental health credential takes a lot of time, money, and effort. With vets being so useful to other vets based on their common cultural and experiential backgrounds why do you push for them to become mental health professionals?
Dr. Alpern. Dear Charlie, There is no doubt that vets have much, much to offer fellow wounded vets. However when dealing with some very serious and dangerous vet situations such as serious drug or alcohol problems, suicidal depressions, anger, isolation, or just plain craziness, the diagnostic and treatment knowledge of mental health professionals becomes critical. Say a vet is trying to help a buddy vet who is clearly delusional, perhaps actively hallucinating. Determining if the delusions are related to a drug reaction, lack of sleep, psychosis or some dual psychological condition, that is having a correct diagnosis, is necessary in order to offer effective help. Further, some conditions require much more professional treatment than can be alleviated by appropriate friendships, group support or various wilderness involvements. Schizophrenia requires very individualized psychotherapy and pharmacological treatments. Suicidal ideation must be carefully evaluated to determine what will help or actually promote suicidal actions. That’s why in the book I offer a number of ways that vets can team up with professional mental health workers. But, educating vets to gain mental health credentials would be the premier training to prepare vets to be most able to help other seriously psychological wounded vets. Many vets have returned with wounds that prevent them from returning to their pre-service physically demanding occupations whereas mental health work does not require a strongly functioning body. Further, most returning vets have federal education benefits that pay for their schooling. Add to those the fact that post service vets are trained and highly motivated to have a “mission”, and not many missions are as appealing as helping fellow vets. Remember that mental health credentials come in many forms requiring differing levels of schooling. You don’t have to be a Psychiatrist which involves many years of medical school, interning, residencies and beyond. There are one and two year master’s level programs for a variety of social work or psychology degrees. Even shorter educational routes exist for obtaining alcohol drug or life coach credentials. My claim is that any motivated vet with minimal educational backgrounds can find schooling that will better prepare them to offer their fellow wounded vets than professionals who have no understanding of the military culture or have experienced what vets feel you must have experienced to be able to understand and thus be helpful to them. GDA