Karen Estrada: Health Literacy and the Military pt. 2

Education should be in the form of graphics, plain language, and a manageable list of appropriate resources. Military life and culture by nature are complex; the types of injuries sustained by our service members are particularly complex as they incorporate both psychological and physical issues.

While there are many excellent resources available to our service members and vets, they are not always ‘easy’ to find. The internet, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms are almost always a cacophony of electronic noise. If the individual has a traumatic brain injury or PTSD, or becomes suicidal, it becomes almost impossible to find appropriate resources.

An example I can use to illustrate this is suicide. These are findings taken from several recent Department of Defense (DoD) reports.*

  • Family members of married and single Service Members do not generally receive service-sponsored education and training in suicide prevention.
  • When training is offered to family members and friends, many obstacles prevent wider attendance.
  • A significant number of Service Member suicides occur in the context of friends and family members having recognized out-of-the-ordinary behaviors by their loved ones in the days and weeks before the suicide event.
  • Some family members who lost loved ones to suicide reported that they “knew something was not right” but were unaware of the significance of what they were “seeing,” especially post-deployment changes and stress reactions.
  • When family members did recognize the significance of distress, they often reported that they did not know whom to call for help.
  • Often family members feel as though they are left on their own to endure the personal pain and struggles of their loved one in the Armed Forces, with no one to turn to.
  • All too often, these loved ones have no idea how to access vital support systems.
  • This is especially true for non-local family members, such as parents and siblings of single Service Members who see their loved ones only when they are on leave.
The importance of the military family’s role is increasingly being recognized in a wide variety of mental health, traumatic brain injury, and suicide prevention programs. Generally, family members do not receive the Services’ education and training programs and are usually unaware of resources available to support Service Members and their families.

As health information literacy educators, we can all make a difference in a service member or veteran’s life. Even if you don’t work directly with this population, chances are you know of someone who has a loved one either serving in the military or who is a veteran.   I will put the reference citations used for this article on my web site: Military Health Matters.

*I would add the DoD and Veterans Affairs (VA) have been making extraordinary strides to remedy these issues and their efforts are beginning to pay off.   

Karen Estrada, M.S. Military Health Matters, LLC. 

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