WXXI AM News

Social distancing can be dangerous for some veterans

Mar 26, 2020

Credit freeimages.com/Steven Bulhoes

Social distancing in the time of coronavirus has transformed daily life across the world. 

Isolation is especially challenging for military veterans who are already dealing with mental health problems. 

In the U.S., the suicide rate among veterans is about double that of the general population.

"We know that one of the greatest impacts and risk factors for a person who may be considering suicide is isolation," said Laura Stradley, executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center. "In fact, it's probably the worst thing you could ask a person to do, who may be suicidal or dealing with very severe mental health issues."

VOC staff members are making phone calls to each veteran who has used the center's services in the last year. Stradley, who is a U.S. Army veteran, said some have lost their job and have questions about how to file for unemployment.

"From a mental health perspective," she said, "we're not getting tons of feedback like, 'Gee, things are escalating for me.' We're not getting a lot of that thankfully, yet."

About 30 men live at Richards House, a residential shelter for homeless veterans in the city of Rochester.

They are now separated into groups of four who take meals together and socialize while maintaining social distancing guidelines.

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, they have not been able to attend AA meetings. They are also trying to adjust to other changes.

"Part of their recovery for a lot of them in the house involves re-establishing connections with family members, and we've had to kind of put limits on that and that's definitely made things difficult," Stradley explained. "We've seen that tempers are a little bit shorter."

For veterans who live in their own homes, the center is making food and household supplies available through a partnership with Monroe County.

The county has set up a temporary facility at the Veterans Service Agency at 125 Westfall Road to distribute those items.  Home deliveries are being made for people who can't get there.

Stradley said the center will open its north campus at 447 South Ave. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily starting on Friday.  Food and other essential items can be picked up in boxes in the foyer. 

She said the center could quickly run out of food and necessary household products.  Community donations can be made by calling 585-546-1081.  More information is available at veteransoutreachcenter.org.

The Veterans Crisis line is 800-273-8255.  Other resources are available here.