In 2016 there were 18.5 million veterans in the United States, and 9.2 million of those veterans were over the age of 65. Florida was one of the most popular states for veterans housing 1.4 million, just behind California (1.6 million) and Texas (1.5 million).
But it’s not always easy to pick a veteran out of the crowd. Many residents don’t realize they work alongside veterans, shop alongside them and even eat alongside them. Furthermore, many don’t understand the struggles veterans face outside of a military lifestyle.
Clara Reynolds is the President and CEO of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. The center offers a variety of programs and services to ensure no one in the community faces a crisis alone. Reynolds has been with the Crisis Center for two years and offered some insight into why veterans face such challenges outside of the military.
“For many veterans when they are done with their military service, for many of them it’s their first time not having a structured environment,” explained Reynolds. “By that, I mean somebody was telling them where they’re going to sleep, how they’re going to dress, how they’re going to get up, what they’re going to do and that transition can be very stressful for veterans.”
“So when you get out, and you find that you don’t have that structure, it can be difficult trying to navigate your way through.”
In 2016 and 2017 the Crisis Center had 7,343 calls from veterans. 69 percent of those calls related to behavioral services and 35 percent of those behavioral calls were from individuals having already identified as being suicidal. Reynolds expressed that majority of these guys put off calling and asking for help until it turned critical.
“Veterans are incredibly resilient and very independent. So by the time they reach out for help, especially to us at the crisis center, they truly are in a crisis situation.”
Once veterans do call the Crisis Center, they are offered a range of programs and services. The first thing the Crisis Center can provide a veteran needing help is a veteran peer assisting another veteran.
“The cool thing we are able to do here at the crisis center is we have veterans answering the veteran support line,” said Reynolds. “So right there is an intervention in itself to have a veteran who has life experience talking to another veteran.”
The second thing offered is the opportunity to ask that second question. Asking that second question means peers talk to the veteran and peel back the layers of what’s going on. After the layers are peeled back, the Crisis Center also offers an opportunity for care coordination.
“What care coordination is is an opportunity for another veteran peer to help that veteran actually make those connections with those resources,” explained Reynolds.
Outside of talking and emotional support, the center also has trauma counseling to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, sleeping trouble and focusing.
Ken Gibson, Director of Marketing and PR at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, has been with the organization for four years and noted the difference between the center and other veteran services. While the Crisis Center partners closely with the VA and other resources, it can take a while to get in with those services and the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay can offer some gap treatment and support in the meantime.
Gibson also noted that services like the VA look at a veterans discharge status before treatment, while the Crisis Center doesn’t care what the discharge status is and will also help the veteran’s family members.
Reynolds and Gibson explained that the majority of the calls they receive are behavioral, but there are also the calls for financial support. 40 percent of the calls the Crisis Center gets are callers looking for financial assistance, and only one percent are looking for employment.
“So often most of our veterans are thankfully employed but they may be underemployed, and they most often have some behavioral health need,” said Reynolds.
According to the U.S. Census Burea, there were seven million veterans from the age of 18 to 64 years old in the labor force in 2016. Of those seven million, 6.7 million were employed. Additionally, in 2016 the annual median income for male veterans was $40,076 and $34,178 for female veterans.
The Crisis Center offers financial and behavioral support, but Reynolds and Gibson urge the community to help as well. Gibson says one of the best ways to help a veteran is to let them know about dialing 2-1-1 or calling the Florida Veterans Support Line at 1-844-MYFLVET (693-5838).
It’s also important to show veterans support and let them know some services exist to help them and it’s okay to reach out and use those services.
There are some volunteer opportunities at the Crisis Center for anyone in the public or veterans who want to assist other veterans. For more information on helping at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay visit www.crisiscenter.com.
It’s never too late to reach out for help, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help at 1-844-MYFLVET (693-5838).