Self-Advocacy Tips for Veterans

The message below comes from DBSA National Headquarters:

U.S. Veterans of all generations, conflicts, discharges, and backgrounds experience unique situations. Yet, impact on­ mental health is universal across the Veteran community. For Veterans facing mental health challenges, self-advocacy includes identifying one’s needs, interests, life skills, and available resources needed to make daily and long-term decisions. According to Vets First, self-advocacy “is all about figuring out what you want, making a plan to get it, and executing it without being afraid to ask for help (whenever needed) along the way.”

Robert Dabney, Jr., MDiv., MA, Manager of DBSA’s Peer Apprentice Program, is a Veteran peer specialist and mental health advocate. He served nine years as a medic in the U.S. Army and three years as a healthcare chaplain. Robert states, “One of the best ways I discovered to begin the healing process is to find a community of which I can be a part. Being in community with people with similar experiences helped to reduce the shame and embarrassment I carried and replaced them with feelings of acceptance and understanding. We are made for relationship (yes, even warriors) and can only begin to accept others into our lives when we accept and respect ourselves.”

In Tips and Strategies for Self-Advocacy, Vets First emphasizes that self-knowledge of your strengths, needs, and interests is the foundation and “first step towards advocating” for yourself.

Vets First also points out that self-advocacy is a skillset to develop over time with practice and recommends the following basic tips:

  • Know and understand your rights and responsibilities
  • Learn all you can about your disability, needs, strengths, and limitations
  • Know what accommodations you need as well as why you need them
  • Know how to communicate your needs and preferences effectively and assertively
  • Find out who the key people are and how to contact them if necessary
  • Be willing to ask questions when something is unclear, or you need clarification

Robert adds, “Mustering the courage that took you through Basic Training will be required to begin healing from the invisible wounds we carry.”

To find more self-advocacy­­ tips, visit DBSA’s website for free resources, wellness tools, stories of inspiration, and online support groups.

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