CLEVELAND – James Ramirez is an 8-year Navy veteran who understands the impact of mental health issues facing America’s veterans.
Ramirez has had multiple family members suffer from the mental effects of combat dating back to the Korean War and has now joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI and its Homefront program to help veterans get the help they need.
Ramirez told News 5 that the efforts being made by NAMI have never been more important, with the Veterans Administration now reporting that 30% of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition that requires treatment. The VA found that less than 50 percent of returning veterans who need it receive any mental health treatment, with approximately 20 veterans dying by suicide each day in the United States.
“We are getting word out to the public that they are not alone,” Ramirez said. “There is hope and there are resources available. Our support groups that we have, our education groups are all confidential, so we maintain that right, that dignity for that person. It’s hard and never easy when you start hearing their personal stories.”
NAMI Greater Cleveland Executive Director Katie Jenkins reports that there are a wide variety of reasons why local veterans do not seek the mental health help that is readily available to them.
“Unfortunately, our veterans are in a crisis right now when it comes to their mental health,” Jenkins said. “It is overcoming their shame, and the individual knows and acknowledges that they are not alone.” Being overwhelmed is a big part of it. If you don’t feel like yourself, you don’t have the ability to just make that one phone call.”
“Some of it is pride. They want to make it on their own, they don’t need these resources, they don’t want to lean on or feel they are leaning on,” Jenkins added. “Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma, and especially among men who are the majority of veterans in this country.”
Jenkins said families should play a role in helping loved ones who have served in the military get the help they need and be aware of the warning signs of suicide.
“Things like tying up loose ends, any big changes in their sleeping and eating habits,” Jenkins said. “Also changes in the way they do things, especially when it comes to handling weapons that are in the house.”
Jenkins said veterans who need immediate support should call the 988 crisis line by dialing 988 and then pressing 1. Veterans can also quickly sign up for the Homefront Wellness program and can register for the local conference in support of Zoom organized by the Department of Veterans Affairs Cleveland, which will be held on Tuesday, November 8, starting at 12:00 p.m.