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As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, it’s important to remember those who fight to preserve our freedom. We are grateful to our active military and veterans who sacrifice so much to preserve our values. Yet many of these heroes and their families struggle with the ramifications of protecting our country.

Last year, President Donald Trump created a cabinet-level task force to address veteran suicide. The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) brings together stakeholders from nonprofit, state and local organizations, Fortune 500 companies and government leaders to develop a holistic public health approach to suicide prevention.

This group’s efforts shine a national spotlight on a staggering problem: how and if our active duty military and veteran populations receive the mental health treatment they need.

According to a national report released by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the suicide rate for Veterans in 2017 rose by 6.1 percent over the previous year and was 1.5 times greater than that of non-veteran adults. The rate for female veterans was 1.3 times higher than non-veteran females. These statistics are disheartening, but there is hope.

Our country has been struggling to find solutions to the lack of high-quality mental health care options for our nation’s heroes. It’s an issue I prioritized when I became CEO of Oceans Healthcare and our hospital teams have worked hard to address. Treating military members and veterans has been part of the Oceans Healthcare framework since our foundation in 2004. Many of our hospitals serve communities near military bases and we have worked diligently with other local providers and community groups to expand our services to address the needs of servicemembers.

Members of the armed forces can face unique behavioral health challenges such as combat-related post-traumatic stress and depression due to long separation from friends and family. While PTSD, depression and isolation are not exclusive to servicemembers, those who have served often exhibit symptoms and behaviors differently from their civilian counterparts. At Oceans, we developed a special program aimed at treating these military members’ unique needs.

In 2018, we launched Oceans Healthcare’s Support Through Active Recovery (STAR) program in response to the growing need within our communities. STAR℠ offers inpatient and intensive outpatient programs to address combat-related PTSD, military sexual trauma, substance use disorder with co-occurring behavioral conditions and other behavioral illnesses. STAR is different from civilian treatment programs, from the content and focus of therapy sessions to the highly structured daily schedule and coordination with on-base or Veteran’s Affairs personnel.

While increasing access to specialized mental health treatment for servicemembers is critical, we must also continue to work toward destigmatizing mental illness and encouraging individuals to seek help. The fear of reporting symptoms of mental illness is a barrier for many, but members of the armed forces are under even more pressure to remain focused under extremely difficult, high-stress situations. By working to treat mental illness as a part of routine healthcare in the military and in our communities, we can hopefully encourage more servicemembers to seek help at the first sign of trauma and work to combat the alarming suicide rate among our nation’s heroes.

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