Veterans face issues from drugs to poverty
The Yuma Sun is taking a look at the Yuma Veterans Fund this week, which will provide grants to help Yuma organizations assist veterans. This story is one in a series titled Veterans In Need. Click here to donate or call 539-5343.
The Yuma Community Foundation is working hard to raise funds for and awareness of the Yuma Veterans Fund, which will provide grants to help veterans organizations meet needs within the community.
It won't give money directly to an individual but it can help an organization help a veteran, perhaps with up-front school costs, transportation for medical treatment, housing, transition back to the civilian world and assistance with disability claims and community resources, according to Judy Gresser, executive director of the foundation.
The money will be used only in Yuma County to provide support for Yuma County veterans.
Veterans are currently facing a wide variety of issues, and the statistics are staggering.
For example, experts estimate anywhere from 11 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD.
And a study by the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research estimates that 320,000 service members who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffered a likely traumatic brain injury, as of October 2007.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have experienced major traumatic limb loss, according to a recent issue of the VA Research Currents.
And an average of 18 veterans a day kill themselves, according to the VA's suicide outreach program. For every completed suicide in 2009, at least five members of the armed forces were hospitalized for attempts. Most veteran suicides are among young service members between the ages of 20 and 24. The suicide rate for veterans is between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000. For non-veterans, it's 8.3 per 100,000.
Substance abuse statistics within the military are also alarming. A study released in September by the Institute of Medicine shows high numbers, and a sharp increase in substance use and abuse in the military: Fewer than a million prescriptions for pain medications, tranquilizers, muscle relaxants, stimulants and barbiturates were written for troops in 2001. In 2011, that was up to 5 million. Opiate pain medication abuse in the military shot from 2 percent in 2005 to 11 percent in 2008. In the Army in particular, one in four soldiers admitted to abusing prescription drugs in the past year.
Among young service members up to age 35, binge drinking was 50 percent higher than among their civilian counterparts.
There have also been studies examining the link between a disability and poverty. Among the young veteran population ages 18-34, about 12 percent are living in poverty, according to the 2011 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census. Of those young vets in poverty, close to 15 percent are disabled. Among same-age non-veterans, more are in poverty, but they are less likely (at 9 percent of that non-military group) to be disabled.
About 26 percent of the total veteran population from all wars back to World War II has some kind of disability, according to the U.S. Census. This compares with 13.7 percent of the non-veteran population.
Veterans also struggle with a higher unemployment rate than the national average. A September Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows the national unemployment rate at 7.8 percent. For veterans of the wars on terror, the rate was 9.7 percent.
Gresser knows there are veterans who return without such grievous issues, but that doesn't mean it's easy for them. Anything her group can do is a way of saying thank you to those who served.
“Healthy veterans returning (have) tremendous hurdles to jump over just getting a job,” she said.
Tax-deductible donations to the Veterans Fund can be made online at www.AZFoundation.org/YumaVeterans or by mailing a check to: Yuma Community Foundation, P.O. Box 6835, Yuma, AZ 85366. Donors should write “Yuma Veterans Fund” on the memo line of the check.
To learn more about the Yuma Veterans Fund, email Yuma Community Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 539-5343.