Caring for Aging Veterans
Did you know that of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II (1941–1945), only 325,574 were still alive as of May 31, 2021? Of course, all are in their 90s or older.
Veterans who fought in Vietnam (1965–1973) are now in their late 60s or older—most over the age of 70. Veterans of the Gulf War (1990–1991) are in their late 40s or older. Near the end of 2020, an estimated 1.68 million Veterans from that era were still alive.
Clearly, as our Veterans age, providing holistic person-centered care is important. This includes dental care, mental health support, and home repair. Following is information about resources:
Dental care for veterans
In 2008, inspired by the story of a local Iraq veteran who was gravely injured by an improvised explosive device (commonly called IEDs), Dr. Theresa Cheng decided to provide free dental care to the spouses and mothers who were caring for our heroes. She found out that most of our Veterans do not receive dental care from the VA, which led her to found Everyone for Veterans (E4V). E4V currently has more than 520 partnering dentists plus dozens of specialists and dental labs in 35 states across the country who provide volunteer services to low-income veterans and families with services.
Home repair for veterans
Rebuilding Together Seattle offers home repair and construction services for people who need help keeping their homes safe and healthy. Veterans are one of their focus populations (see Veterans at Home). Executive director Caleb Marshall shared a story about work they did for a Veteran a few years ago. They poured a concrete pathway, graded and wide enough for wheelchair accessibility, on the side of the Veteran’s home. Other accessibility improvements included a series of ramps to get down to the backyard patio, a ramp at the front door to get over the threshold, widening of doorways inside, wall protection around corners, moving the washer and dryer upstairs and wall-mounted sink in the bathroom. They also were able to make a connection with ElderFriends. The home modifications and social connectivity provided support for successful aging in place.
Mental health services for veterans
According to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, 30 percent of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health problem that typically requires treatment, and less than half of that population have received mental health treatment. Mental health is an important issue, and it is complex. Post-traumatic stress (PTSD), depression, and thoughts of suicide are common, and the suicide rate is increasing. Though the data lags two years behind present conditions and does not include any figures from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, mental health experts have warned the pandemic is causing even larger increases in the rates of mental distress and self-harm among Veterans.
The VA Puget Sound Health Care System offers many different types of support for Veterans, including mental health services (in-person appointments, virtual care calls, and individual and group therapies), PTSD support, memory loss, falls prevention, healthy aging brain classes, addiction treatment center and much more.
PEARLS (the Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives) is an evidenced-based problem-solving program free to Veterans, their spouses, and spouse survivors aged 55 and older in King County offered by Aging and Disability Services and other community-based agencies.
Additional resources for veterans
- Community Living Connections (toll-free 844-348-5464) is the number to call for any question or concern related to aging, disability, or caregiving. All calls and consultations are confidential and free of charge.
- Mental Health First Aid for Veterans is a valuable training class for anyone working with Veterans or their families.
As we reflected on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 (September 11, 2021) and we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, may we always remember our dedicated veterans, their spouses, spouse survivors, and families for their service and sacrifices.
Contributor Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN is a senior planner at Aging and Disability Services. She extends thanks and appreciation to Dr. Theresa Cheng and Jessica Elwell at E4V; Caleb Marshall at, Rebuilding Together Seattle; and Julia Moorer, RN, GRECC, Memory Disorders Clinic, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, as well as all the dedicated community members who support our incredible veterans.