7/17/2014 Related Story: The Suicide Epidemic Among US Soldiers
Terri White, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said they currently have the resources to reach a third of the Oklahomans who are struggling with mental illness and drug abuse.
"That means that two-thirds of Oklahomans are going without help," said White. "That includes men and women who've been part of the National Guard or who've served in the armed forces."
Beyond the issue of resources to treat the conditions that afflict returning soldiers is the issue of the stigma that is still, too often, attached to getting that treatment.
"It's really been one of those things that--dadgum if you do and darned if you don't," said Gen. Aragon. "We really need to make it more acceptable."
State lawmakers didn't help matters this past session, when they considered legislation aimed at providing new homes for two state agencies that are both badly needing new homes.
"The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was happy to be a tenant in the Department of Veterans Affairs' proposed new building," said Commissioner White. "Unfortunately, while we had many men and women from the Armed Forces who were excited about this possibility and this synergy, we had a couple of folks who, because of that stigma around mental health and substance abuse, weren't sure they wanted to share a building with [us]."
Both Aragon and White said if we don't do a better job of erasing the stigma, and the state doesn't dedicate more resources and funding to solving this problem, we will just see more veterans thrown in jail for self-medicating and more who decide to end their pain permanently.