CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Wounded veterans are facing even tougher challenges during the pandemic.
Many already struggling with Post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health conditions.
More than half of post-9/11 wounded veterans said their mental health is worse since the start of socially distancing, according to a new survey just released by Wounded Warrior Project.
They also found money troubles are adding even more stress to tough times.
One veteran opened up to 19 Investigates about how hard it has become.
Jeremiah Pauley grew up in Massillon and served in the U.S. Army for 11 years.
He deployed to Iraq in 2006.
“And about three months later I was injured by a roadside bomb. Physical therapy and surgery really saved my right arm,” Pauley said.
But the emotional wounds stuck around much longer.
“I was self-isolating. I didn’t really have anyone to talk to or a support structure in place, so that I could learn how to cope with the post-traumatic stress,” he said.
Jeremiah’s path to recovery was helped by other veterans who faced the same challenges.
He found them through Wounded Warrior Project, where he now works.
“It’s okay to ask for help, it’s a big, big sign of strength to put yourself out there and say, you know what I’m experiencing right now isn’t normal. And I need to find some place to go for help,” Pauley said.
That support can already be hard for veterans to find.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic and post-9/11 wounded veterans
“From experience I’ll tell you that self-isolation is a very bad thing. And when you’re doing that, you start fighting these invisible demons in your heart and your mind,” Pauley said.
A new study just released by Wounded Warrior Project surveyed nearly 30,000 post 9/11 wounded veterans from May to June.
It found 61 percent of veterans reported feeling more disconnected than ever.
52 percent said their mental health was worse.
“Don’t suffer in silence, please reach out and ask for help,” said Pauley.
There is some good news, 80 percent of veterans who took the survey say they have people they can depend on when they need it the most.
Jobs are also a big concern.
One-third of vets who responded have or expect to run out of money due to the pandemic.
More than 40 percent reported employment difficulties.
The unemployment rate among this warrior population has reached 16 percent, according to the survey.
Pandemic may worsen challenges
Dr. Melanie Mousseau with Wounded Warrior Project said the pandemic amplifies challenges veterans already face.
“Sleep disturbances or problems, PTSD, back neck and shoulder problems, as well as depression and anxiety,” Mousseau said.
30 percent of post-911 vets they serve already reported having thoughts of suicide in the last two weeks.
Right now Mousseau said suicides are consistent with last year, but they’re watching them closely.
Access to care continues to be an obstacle for all of these issues and they’re trying to fight that.
She said Wounded Warrior Project already had a lot of virtual-based programs, like Warriors to Work, and an emotional support help line.
They continue to checking their programs are meeting veterans' needs on a daily basis.
“We’re asking new questions, we’re wanting to make sure that warriors are getting what they need. And so I think there’s a lot of lessons learned from this, that when we come out of the pandemic on the back side, that we’re going to sustain some of the changes that we need,” Mousseau said.
You can reach out to Wounded Warrior Project to register, you can access their Resource Center here.
You can read more from the survey here.
Military suicides up this year
Military suicides have increased as much as 20 percent this year, compared to this time in 2019.
These statistics include active duty military members.
If you or someone you love needs immediate help, you can call the Veteran Crisis Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.
You can connect with qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs, many who are veterans themselves.