State, local orgs step up to help Nevada's many veterans in need
Veterans like Nevada. About 200,000 live here, and U.S News and World says Nevada has the seventh highest percent of veterans compared to other states.
But veteran services in Nevada historically have not been good.
Mental Health America says Nevada has thetenth worst mental health care for veterans in the country. And a detailed analysis by WalletHub ended up ranking Nevada as 49th, one of the worst states in the country for military retirees.
A big part of that is access to doctors, therapists, mental health resources.
But the good news is, some people are working hard to change this scenario in Nevada. State and local organizations have stepped up over the years to raise veteran mental health awareness and provide more services.
The Veteran's Affairs of Southern Nevada Healthcare System has a variety of clinics and hospitals they operate in throughout Nevada, and more than 70,000 veterans are enrolled in the VA system in Nevada. They offer all kinds of primary care, specialty care, and mental health resources.
Mental health care access in Nevada though has largely been lacking for years.
In 2022, Nevada nationally ranked 40 in access to mental health care, and veterans often have a higher prevalence for mental illness. The chief of staff for Southern Nevada's VA Healthcare System, Dr. Ramu Komanduri, talked about the work they're doing to increase access to care.
"The VA has made tremendous commitment to providing resources for veterans and allowing us to hire mental health professionals," said Komanduri. "Just to give a good example, a new veteran who comes into the VA for routine mental health care can get an appointment in less than 10 days. That's remarkable. Veterans have much better access in this community than the general public."
Komanduri added that the biggest challenge the VA faces right now is raising awareness of VA services to veterans.
Many colleges and universities have military and veteran resources for students, and the University of Nevada Las Vegas' center for military and veteran resources has fared fairly well since its inception 12 years ago. It recently ranked in the top 10 most military friendly schools in the nation.
What is it doing right though? What is it doing for veterans that makes it stand out when compared to other schools?
The center's executive director, Ross Bryant, said their focus on counseling and student wellness is the most critical part of the operation.
"Let's say you're struggling, and your professor identifies you as a student of concern. If you're a veteran or military family member, we are called right away," said Bryant. "We end up reaching out to you personally to find out what's going on, and then working with the Student of Conduct and Student of Concern office to get you the resources you need. We then have peer to peer mentors, and they might give reminders like, 'hey, it's a stressful time for midterms or finals, here are some things you could do'. There's a massage chair at the Student Wellness office, we can meet for a cup of coffee, etc. Additionally, veterans that get connected with our veteran office, a lot of them end up working for us and they become part of our community of service to help other vets."
MERGING VETS AND PLAYERS
Merging Vets and Players is a national organization with many chapters across the U.S. They focus on bringing retired athletes and veterans together to help them achieve new-found meaning and purpose in their lives.
Bruno Moya is the program manager for the Las Vegas chapter of the organization and he talked about the synergy that retired athletes and veterans can have, that ultimately helps them on their journey.
"A lot of combat veterans and former professional athletes getting out of the military or sport have similar obstacles when transitioning to civilian life," said Moya. "When you're a veteran, sometimes you're going to war and you form a bond. Then you get out of that bond, and that purpose is no longer there. Then you look at some professional athletes. They've been training to be in the NFL or NBA ever since they were young, and then all of a sudden they get injured and can no longer do it. Most combat veterans join when they are 18 years old, and that's their whole focus for years. When veterans get out of the military or athletes out of sport, they look around and feel alone."
He continued, "So what we thought about was creating a group where combat veterans and professional athletes get together, once a week for two hours. They do one hour of physical fitness, and then we combine that with a second hour of what we call the huddle, which is peer to peer group counseling."
Guests: Bruno Moya, Las Vegas program manager, Merging Vets and Players; Ross Bryant, executive director, Military and Veteran Services Center, UNLV; Dr. Ramu Komanduri, chief of staff, VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System