Veterans trying to find the right support for them or their family can find the task overwhelming. They may also not know what they need to help resolve issues in their life. One organization has opened their support line to help veterans access the resources they need to improve their lives.
Cigna’s new “Veteran Support Line” is available every day, 24/7 to all veterans, their family and caregivers regardless if they are Cigna customers or have any veteran benefits.
The idea to open a support line for veterans started after Cigna identified that veterans were a population that were at higher risk of opioid addiction and wanted to offer a way to help.
“A lot of veterans and non-veterans, a lot of the opioid painkiller addiction and reliance on [drugs] does start typically with pain. And it’s very easy for that to happen to any of us,” said Karen Cierzan, when asked what makes the veteran population particularly vulnerable to addiction. Cierzan is the vice president of clinical operations for Cigna behavioral health.
“It’s very easy to have a minor injury, minor surgery and have pain, and it’s hard to live with pain. When you have pain, we can’t think straight, our concentration is impacted, our communication is impacted with others, our sleep,” she said. “And we want release. And opioids can provide that release.”
But if the pain or injury is not addressed, it can lead to a reliance on painkillers. “Our goal is to help people find other ways to cope with the pain, live with that, make that better for them,” Cierzan said.
The new support line is not just for veterans suffering from addiction but, “really for any issue that they have,” she said. Their work is to figure out what is happening to the veteran, whether it’s a new issue or one that has happened in the past, and to find resources for them.
“And so when we thought about the veterans—and we knew that there would be a variety of issues for them and their families—the first thing that we are here to do when they call that line is really provide advocacy to them, to listen.”
When veterans call 855-244-6211, a team of behavioral health advocates will help them find local support and resources for whatever they need, including transportation, financial assistance, housing, and healthcare.
With its other support line for Cigna customers, the team has been compiling a database of information for over five years on local resources and they continue to verify and update it, Cierzan said.
The support line is also able to connect veterans with a crisis triage team if during the conversation they say they may hurt themselves or others and get them to a point of safety.
“And then once we’ve done that, which is typically in an emergency room for care, then we’ll start to find out what’s that next for them and how do we avoid that happening again,” she said.
Cigna’s support line team will work with the veteran to find out what obstacles they have to accessing help or support, and then link them up with local organization who can help.
What this support line brings as a resource that is not necessarily available to veterans now is “experienced listening, asking questions, and sometimes it’s listening for what they are not even saying,” Cierzan said, in order help them understand what support is available to them.
Cigna reached out to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to understand the needs of veterans.
“It was just general understanding of what veterans are looking for,” said Jeremy Butler, a senior military fellow at IAVA, about what they wanted Cigna to know about when working with veterans.
“Veterans are a very unique group in that they are people that want to help, they’re used to operating independently with minimal guidance and things like that. And so it’s not so much that they want a hand out, they just want a hand up,” he said.
IAVA has its own program called the Rapid Response Referral Program that has social workers who connect veterans to resources and support. Butler says that since 2012, they have helped over 8,000 veterans. In July, Cigna gave a $300,000 grant to IAVA for the RRRP.
Butler said it’s important to get the word out about RRRP and the new Cigna support line so that veterans learn more about the resources that are available for them.
“There’s a lot of veterans in need and it can be very difficult for them to find out what the best resources are,” Butler said.
Goal of the support line for the next year, Cierzan said, is to provide the support and to see if they are providing it well as well as continue to evolve the program as they learn more about what veterans are asking for.
“We’re excited to have people use it and continue to grow it,” she said.