MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Veterans need help now more than ever. According to the Wounded Warrior Project, the pandemic worsened veterans' mental health. The project reports one-third of veterans contemplated suicide and admitted to suffering from depression and anxiety in 2020.
“The need for mental health or just to be able to talk about some of the things that we’re going through would be beneficial," said Amanda Pickens of the Oklahoma Veteran Alliance. "We just find it very important that veterans know that there is a place to go that there’s room for them and that they can receive that care that they deserve and need.”
For many vets in Green Country, that place of comfort and understanding sits atop a hill overlooking Muskogee. The Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center has treated veterans for nearly a century.
“We still have a tremendous demand to meet the needs of veterans in Eastern Oklahoma," said Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System Director Mark Morgan.
The health care system recently moved its medical and surgical treatment to Ernest Childers VA Hospital in Tulsa, which opened its doors in July.
“By having the medical, surgical hospital in Tulsa it allows us then to re-purpose to the Jack C. Montgomery Medical Center and to expand and actually to offer geriatric in-patient services to veterans," Morgan said.
The Eastern Oklahoma VA plans to inject $30 million into Montgomery Medical Center to enhance psychological and substance abuse treatment. Morgan said beds are filling up with veterans now breaking down over a year into the pandemic.
“Now, I feel like I can say, personally, and a lot of other veterans that I know, they’re really getting COVID fatigue," Pickens said.
Pickens explained, a lot of veterans are used to being around large groups of people from years of training and serving with fellow soldiers. She said when COVID forced them into isolation, many veterans were affected by the mental battle that welcomed them.
“I just think it really helps a veteran to be with other veterans that maybe face some of the same struggles, and I think we gain strength from each other," Pickens said.
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