There’s no question we are living in unprecedented times. A global pandemic has kept millions of Americans at home followed up by a spring storm that dumped feet of snow, which knocked thousands of Mainers off the power grid.  Mainers are resilient, and there is no doubt we’ll get through the struggles of COVID-19, but during these trying times, let us remember the importance of taking care of not only our physical health, but our mental health as well.

Over the past three years, the VA Maine Healthcare System, Maine Vet Centers and the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services have worked together to reduce the risk of veteran suicide and promote resources to keep our nation’s service members mentally fit. Bringing together a variety of federal, state and local resources, our three organizations – along with many others – have worked tirelessly to connect veterans with valuable resources before they reach a point of crisis. Our work hasn’t stopped, and it is more important than ever before.

For many veterans, traveling to Togus has been made more challenging by COVID-19 and the VA Maine Healthcare System, Maine Vet Centers and Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services field offices have worked daily to deliver quality and timely care to our veterans. All three of our organizations have embraced new technology to meet the needs of our state’s service members:

• VA Maine Healthcare System: Offering telehealth services to veterans. Through a home computer or mobile device, veterans can connect to the VA Maine Healthcare System. If you’re enrolled in VA health care, ask any of your providers to help connect you with the telemental health program or call 877-222-8387 to find the right resources for your needs.

• Maine Vet Centers: Mental health care is especially important during stressful times like these, and Maine’s five Vet Centers are offering virtual appointments to veterans who need ongoing support.

• Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services: Bureau Veteran Service Officers have continued to hold appointments (via telephone and Skype) for any veteran who wishes to file a claim with the VA.

VA Maine chaplains and the Suicide Prevention Team have also been working closely to keep veterans connected, albeit virtually. The isolation is difficult for everyone and we want to ensure people are getting “check-ins” if this is something they are open to.

In collaboration with Chaplaincy and Suicide Prevention, and as a national response to COVID-19, the chaplaincy service is enhancing their outreach to veterans at increased risk for suicide. VA chaplains are available to call veterans who are at higher risk of suicide and may be experiencing more psychological distress (anxiety, depression, worry, etc.) with the complication of physical distancing at this time. The purpose of the call is additional support and contact.

While there is a great deal of uncertainty and many things seem to be out of our control, there is a great deal we can do for ourselves: Keep a routine, exercise, call friends and family, read, worship, access telehealth options, meditate or participate in activities you enjoy such as cooking or other hobbies.

Stay in contact with your loved ones. Call family and friends. Now more than ever, social connection is a necessity.  Share your concerns and struggles with your family, because we’re confident you’re not alone in your feelings. Think about your network, and if there is someone you feel could use a little extra support, reach out and offer to be part of their support system.

It’s also vital to learn the signs and symptoms of crisis. While some folks may not show signs of crisis, there are certainly behaviors that indicate risk.  The following are potential warning signs:

• Appearing sad, depressed or hopeless.
• Anxiety, sleeplessness or mood swings.
• Rage, anger or showing violent behavior.
• Engaging in risky behavior.
• Drug or alcohol abuse.
• Losing interest in hobbies.
• Neglecting personal hygiene.
• Withdrawing from family and friends.

We’ll continue to do everything we can to provide the services our veterans and their dependents count on, but it’s up to all of us to band together as a community and do our part. Now more than ever, let’s continue our buddy checks and leave no Mainer behind.


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