By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Joint Chiefs head addresses vets challenges
Adm. Mike Mullen - photo by File photo
With Veterans Day around the corner, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and his wife, Deborah Mullen, sat down with reporters last week to raise visibility on issues important to military families and veterans such as mental health issues, reintegration into civilian life, unemployment and homelessness.
“This is an extraordinary group of young people fighting these wars,” the chairman said. “Their lives, by and large, have changed forever. They look forward to closing this chapter of their lives and moving forward.”
Mullen has made the post-military life of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans a focus of his tenure as chairman, conducting a “Conversations with the Country” tour to speak to government and business leaders in civilian communities about helping young veterans reintegrate to civilian life. He added that he recently set up a team at the Pentagon to also help with the civilian reintegration effort.
“There’s a sea of goodwill out there from people willing to help,” Mullen said. “The challenge is in coordinating between them and us.”
The chairman also encouraged new and longstanding veterans to network for better reintegration, saying there is “an instant understanding” among veterans of all wars of each others’ issues.
Deoborah Mullen, who frequently travels to speak with her husband to service members and their families, said issues such as unemployment are important to military spouses, too. About three-fourths of military spouses either are working or seeking employment, she said, adding that they have excellent work characteristics.
“They’re enormously flexible, they have great strength and they’re used to change,” she said.
The Mullens also addressed mental-health problems, suicides and homelessness among military families and veterans.
The admiral noted that the biggest change in treatment has been the increasing willingness of service members to seek help. Outreach efforts by leaders have made headway against the stigma attached to seeking mental-health care in the military culture, he said, but “we’re not there yet” in making the perceived stigma a thing of the past.
The military now deploys mental-health professionals to the war theaters, mandates “time outs” for service members who have been near explosions and keeps adding mental-health workers as they become available, Mullen said.
“Often, the symptoms, if you don’t do anything about them, won’t manifest for several years, then they are harder to treat,” Mullen said.
Meanwhile, suicides have become “almost epidemic,” the chairman said, adding that the problem isn’t well addressed across the nation at large.
“I worry that we are at the tip of the iceberg here” with service member suicides, he said, noting that because many suicides are not tied to combat deployments, the causes are difficult to discern.
Regarding homelessness, a growing problem particularly for young female veterans, Deborah Mullen said the issue begins in the military. A significant number of homeless female veterans experienced sexual trauma in the military, she explained, which can lead to post-traumatic stress.
Also, many women don’t even think of themselves as veterans after they leave the military, and communities often don’t look at them that way, making them less likely to use veterans’ benefits to seek the help they need, she said.
Female veterans have a higher divorce rate and lower civilian pay rate than their male counterparts, and one-fourth of female homeless veterans have children in their custody, Deborah Mullen said. The trajectory of such women after leaving the service too often is “couch surfing, or sleeping in their cars,” then into homeless shelters, she said.

Sign up for our E-Newsletters