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North Carolina’s strong connection to the U.S. military has placed the state at the forefront of the effort to ensure that active-duty military members, veterans, and their families have access to quality mental health care.

North Carolina is home to eight U.S. military bases, including Ft. Bragg, which is the largest military installation in the world. The state’s citizenry also includes more than 775,000 veterans. The Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all have a presence in North Carolina.

As a result, elected officials and healthcare experts throughout the state of North Carolina are acutely aware of the military community’s need for quality mental health services.

The Scope of the Problem

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has struggled to meet the demand for effective mental health treatment for military members and veterans in North Carolina.

For example, only four VA centers in North Carolina offer programming for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that is prevalent among a population that is commonly exposed to combat and other traumatic experiences. In Wilmington, North Carolina, one of the most populous cities in the state, there are no VA centers that offer a PTSD program.

According to the VA website, about 7 percent of all Americans will struggle with PTSD at one point in their lives. However, among military members, the prevalence of PTSD is significantly higher.

The VA reports that about 15 percent of veterans who served in Vietnam have struggled with PTSD, as have about 12 percent of those who served during Operation Desert Storm (the 1990-91 military operation to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait). For those who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, which were launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, the VA reports that the PTSD rate may be as high as 20 percent.

Improving Access to Care

Shortcomings in mental health care for members of the military community in North Carolina and throughout the nation were addressed by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), in a Nov. 10 article that he wrote for StarNews Media.

“A glaring area of failure is the inadequate mental health care resources offered to veterans, many of whom suffer from PTSD, [traumatic brain injury], and depression as a direct consequence of their service,” Sen. Tillis wrote. “That is absolutely unacceptable, and it’s why Congress has started to play a leading role in improving the breadth and quality of mental health care services at the VA. “

One of the ways that the U.S. Congress is addressing mental health care for military members and veterans is Senate Bill 841, which is titled “Prioritizing Veterans Access to Mental Health Care Act of 2015.” If passed and signed into law, this bill will authorize veterans to receive mental health services from non-VA providers if they provide a written statement that the VA has been incapable of providing the care that they need.

Getting Help in North Carolina

As indicated in provisions of Senate Bill 841, the VA is not the only provider that offers mental health services to veterans and other members of the U.S. military community.

For example, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Wilmington Treatment Center has established Operation Recovery, a specialized treatment track where military members, police officers, and others from similar professions can receive quality care for PTSD, substance use disorders, and other mental and behavioral health challenges.

If you or someone you love is a military member, veteran, or military family member, know that treatment options are available, and a healthier future is within your reach.

Going to Wilmington was the greatest decision I ever made. The encouragement I received will never be forgotten and I'm proud to say that I am sober today!

– Nathan Z.