Rutgers provides helpline for veterans in need of support
The Call Center of Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare offers seven different helplines, from Mom2Mom, which connects mothers of children with special needs, to Cop2Cop, which connects law enforcement professionals with retired police officers and police clinicians.
Another helpline, New Jersey Vet2Vet, offers support for New Jersey military veterans and their families.
Coordinated by the Piscataway-based Rutgers University Behavioral Health and funded by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the helpline is accessible 24 hours a day. On the other end of the phone, veterans of the United States armed forces and a trained peer support specialist accept the calls, according to its website.
As a former Marine Sergeant who participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2006 to 2007, Terrell McCain said that individuals who have served in the United States military can better relate to veterans in need of assistance and can connect them to appropriate services.
NJ Vet2Vet program offers peer support, clinical assessments and case management and referrals to mental health providers for affected veterans and their families, said McCain, who is also the helpline's project manager.
“Veterans and families call seeking assistance with various things, like navigation through the (Veterans Affairs) system, talking about stressors linked to employment, housing, or trying to find resources within the community outside of the Veterans Affairs,” McCain said.
Veterans must reintegrate into the civilian lifestyle, which can be difficult, McCain said.
“When you’re in the military, you don’t have to worry about housing, support, medical expenses, job security,” he said. “When you get out of the military, all of that is yanked right from under you.”
Vet2Vet places focus on finding jobs and housing resources and navigating the VA claims system, McCain said.
NJ Vet2Vet was established after many veterans expressed frustration working with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The department, McCain said, offers services provided by individuals with little understanding of what service members went through.
Initially, the helpline focused on providing counseling and linking veterans to mental health providers in the community, but the idea of a counseling line discouraged veterans from calling.
“They may not be willing to do counseling at first,” McCain said. “They may just want somebody to talk to, and that’s what we do here.”
Since then, the helpline has stressed peer support over counseling.
“The helpline NJ Vet2Vet has the advantage of directly addressing the stigma barrier to help. If a veteran is ambivalent about reaching out for help, they may be more likely to initiate that process with a call to another veteran via the peer-to-peer helpline,” said Thomas Morgan, a professor in the Department of Psychology.
Peer-to-peer services, like the ones offered by NJ Vet2Vet, are effective as a triage point to help assess and direct veterans to appropriate services, Morgan said.
By uniquely presenting itself as a peer support network rather than a mental health program, NJ Vet2Vet facilitates the healing process of returning veterans. This method is effective in helping reduce the stigma regarding mental health issues that has prevented so many veterans from seeking proper help.
Morgan said veterans commonly report concerns about being viewed as "weak" and being treated differently by others.
“The culture of the military is a warrior culture that values strength, courage, mental toughness and personal sacrifice. It is a significant challenge for the military to acknowledge and address the need for its force to deal with the emotional impact of military service,” Morgan said.
Only about half of returning service members seek proper treatment for mental health conditions, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website.
“We don’t try to stress mental health right off the bat," McCain said. "We might ask, what do you want to do in order to be successful, what have you considered and what have you tried so far?"
Christina Gaudino is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in public policy. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.