1/3 of Wounded Warriors aren't getting the care they need

Matt Saintsing
December 04, 2018 - 6:00 am

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. David N. Beckstrom

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Since 2010, the Wounded Warrior Project has been surveying their members as a way to see what's working and where they need to adjust fire. 

“It started as a way for us to identify what are some of the challenges that those that were serving are facing so that we can put in place programs and services that are best going to meet those needs,” Melanie Mousseau, Director of metrics for Wounded Warrior Project tells Connecting Vets.

She says there haven't been any monumental shifts over last year's survey, but the trends since 2014 show their members aren't as lonely, are more educated and more financially stable, based on responses from more than 33,000 veterans and active duty troops. 

Unfortunately, it isn't all great news as most of the respondents are managing at least three service-connected injuries, are more obese than the general population, and aren't getting enough exercise. 

Here's the breakdown:

Better off Financially

70 percent of respondents say they are better off financially today than they were a year ago, partly because their overall unemployment rate continues to decline with 11 percent looking for work, compared to 14 percent five years ago. 

They're also pulling in more money. On average, Wounded Warrior Project members make $850 a week, a $50 increase from 2014. Unsurprisingly, they're also experiencing an uptick in homeownership; 60 percent, up from just under half over the last five years. 

They work in a diverse set of industries, but 23 percent work for the federal government, up from 18 percent. 

More Educated

The number of members who have bachelor's degrees jumped up to 36 percent, a dramatic increase from 25 percent in 2014. 

That figure is only expected to rise as just under one-in-four members are currently enrolled in school, with the vast majority looking to complete a bachelor's degree or higher. 

They're Not Alone

In an age of increased isolation, which can lead to depression and other mental health ailments, eight in 10 of members said they could depend on someone "if they really needed it" or if they were looking for advice. 

Additionally, some 53 percent are leveraging their peers to help deal with mental health problems. 

Now, the not so great. 

Seeking out care more often

In line with previous years, the vast majority of respondents say they have post-traumatic stress (78 percent), have frequent sleep problems (75 percent), and have back, neck or shoulder pain (74 percent.) 

In the three months before taking the survey, more than half say they've sought out professional help for stress, emotional, alcohol, drug or family issues. 

But that doesn't mean they're getting the care they need. One-third are not receiving the mental health care needed, with the most cited reason being difficulty matching up their schedules with VA appointments. 

However, the trend of using the VA for mental health care is on the rise. In this year's survey, almost 3/4 say they're using the VA compared to just over 2/3 doing the same five years ago. 

“Mental health care and physical care access really run parallel as far as the challenges and barriers,” says Mousseau. 

But she stresses there's less of a stigma in seeking out mental health services. "Majority of warriors do not see access to mental health as being adversely impacting their careers," she adds. "And that's a good thing." 

Obesity is a growing concern 

More than half of those surveyed have a body mass index (BMI) that falls within the obesity range. That figure outpaces that of the general population (which ranges from 36 to 43 percent for the same age group). 

But while 85 percent say physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, just 42 percent engage in "moderate-intensity physical activity" three times per week. 

"Being uncomfortable in social situations" is the chief barrier to exercising (41 percent), followed by not having enough time (39 percent). 

And it's impacting their bottom line. More than 80 percent say their health limits the type of jobs they can do.

Along similar lines, 85 percent feel they are less productive, due to their physical health.  

Rather than using the mountain of data they collect annually to measure the impact of a particular program, the Wounded Warrior Project tracks their members over time to learn about specific trends so they can best serve them.