Charleston, W.V. - Results from the 2012 West Virginia Legislature Military Survey were presented to the Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs during the Interim session today.
Through the survey, the West Virginia Legislature heard from more than 1,200 veterans and military personnel from across the state about physical and mental health, work, education, family, retirement, and benefits as part of an initiative to help improve services and resources for military heroes and their families. The survey participants, ranging from 19 to over 90 years of age, included men and women who served in current and recent conflicts as well as in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.
One section of the survey examined health risk factors and suggests that these veterans use tobacco and alcohol at lower rates than other West Virginians, but at about the nationwide average. Obesity, however, is a significant health risk, with a higher percentage of these veterans being overweight or obese as compare to national and West Virginia rates (based on body mass index). This may be associated with higher rates of diabetes and hypertension in the study sample. Nearly all of the veterans reported having health care coverage and seeing a health care provider in the past year, but only half indicated receiving care from a VA facility during the same time span.
A large percentage of these veterans served in conflict areas or war zones and were exposed to combat stressors. Similar to the 2008 Military Survey conducted by the Legislature, fully half of these veterans, across all ages and conflicts, are experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder and/or depression. Of serious concern are the members of this sample (20 percent) who are at significant risk for suicide, based on report of suicidal thoughts and actions and a combination of military and life stressors.
Recommendations were presented to the Committee for addressing several areas of concern, including suicide risk awareness and reduction, increasing mental health services for veterans and their families, reduction of health risk factors, and continued support for military-friendly colleges and universities.
"The report provides both good news and news that gives cause for concern,” said Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, co-chair of the Veterans Interim Committee. “The survey data are so valuable because they provide the Legislature with the kind of evidence-based information we need to pinpoint where our resources and policy changes should be directed."
“The survey confirms to me my personal findings from my experience deployed to Afghanistan in 2011,” said Senator Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, chair of the Senate Military Committee and a Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Navy Reserve. “We clearly need to focus on the mental health of our returning veterans who are having difficulty adjusting to home life after returning from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
"It is important that we properly understand how our veterans with disabilities are doing since we have so many, of all ages, in remote areas of our state,” said Delegate Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and an Army veteran."
The Legislature worked with Atlas Research, a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, to conduct the study. The study team included Senior Vice President Hilda R. Heady, Jae Song, Jessica Bachler, Ria Muttukumaru, along with Joseph R. Scotti, Ph.D., professor of psychology with West Virginia University, who presented the findings to the Committee.