Veterans groups, govt brace for surge in mental health needs

Full Screen
1 / 6

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran Chad Sneary, 43, sits on a bench. Sneary was laid off from his manufacturing job in April. Sneary waits for unemployment to come through. "Financial skills is not something the military ever taught you," he said on Thursday, April 30, 2020, in Mooresville, N.C. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan)

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – When Kristofer Goldsmith was discharged from the Army in 2007 he was in crisis.

He had been trained as a forward observer — the person who spots a target and gives coordinates to artillery — but when he got to Iraq, the then 19-year-old instead found himself photographing dead bodies for intelligence gathering. A suicide attempt before his second deployment triggered a less than honorable discharge and a long fight to gain honorable status after being diagnosed with PTSD.

Goldsmith credits the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical staff with saving his life.

The VA and its partner mental health providers have kept thousands of veterans in treatment during the coronavirus pandemic through telehealth appointments. But as job losses and increased social isolation take an extended toll, some veterans' advocates worry the already understaffed VA medical facilities can't keep up and that telehealth isn’t enough.

“After years of self-imposed isolation ... I was really in need of person-to-person contact,” said Goldsmith, now the assistant director of policy at Vietnam Veterans of America. “Flash forward almost 13 years now since I got out, and telehealth is right for me."

The VA on Friday kicked off a “Now is the Time” campaign aimed at alerting veterans and their families to the mental health resources that are available to them.

But veterans advocates still are waiting for a report by a White House task force established by President Donald Trump last year that was charged with developing a national roadmap to boost mental health care and stem persistently high suicide numbers among veterans, who have been hard hit in the pandemic.

Release of the task force report had been scheduled in March but was abruptly shelved due to the outbreak.