for Veterans and the Public
Talk with others who have been diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Ask your doctors if they know of any support groups. Or you can go online, where you can find message boards and chat rooms. Always discuss what you learn from these sources with your provider. The information may not be accurate; and even if it is, it may not be right for your particular situation.
Finding support means finding people who are willing to help you through the emotional and physical issues you are going to face. If you let the right people in your life know that you are HIV positive, they can:
- offer you support and understanding;
- provide you with assistance, such as running errands and helping with child care, doctor visits, and work;
- learn from you how HIV is spread and work with you to prevent the virus from spreading.
Deciding to tell others that you are HIV positive is an important personal choice. It can make a big difference in how you cope with the disease. It can also affect your relationships with people.
If you decide to share information about your diagnosis, it is best to tell people you trust or people who are directly affected. These include:
- family members;
- people you spend a lot of time with, such as good friends;
- all your health care providers, such as doctors, nurses, and dentists;
- sex partner(s).
You don't have to tell everyone about your HIV status right away. You might want to talk with a counselor or social worker first.
Join a support group
Some VA Medical Centers have a support group for veterans with HIV, so you may want to ask your provider if your center has one that you can join for support and for more information about living with HIV.
Joining a group of people who are facing the same challenges you are facing can have important benefits. These include feeling better about yourself, finding a new life focus, making new friendships, improving your mood, and better understanding your needs and those of your family. People in support groups often help each other deal with common experiences associated with being HIV positive.
Support groups are especially helpful if you live alone or don't have family and friends nearby.
There are different types of support groups, from hotlines to face-to-face encounter groups. Here are descriptions of some of the most popular types, and suggestions about how to find them.
Find a hotline in your area by talking to a VA social worker in your hospital. Or look in the telephone book, in the yellow pages under "Social Service Organizations." Ask the hotline to "match" you with another person with a history like yours. He or she can give you practical advice and emotional support over the telephone.
Veterans with HIV can get referrals to mental health professionals, such as psychologists, nurse therapists, clinical social workers, or psychiatrists. You also will likely have a social worker who is part of the HIV clinic where you will receive care. You can also get help for drug abuse.
Finally, the VA has Vet Centers, or Veteran Readjustment Centers, that specialize in supporting veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of these centers provide help to veterans with HIV.
Self-help groups enable people to share experiences and pool their knowledge to help each other and themselves. They are run by members, not by professionals (though professionals are involved). You may, for example, be able to find groups specifically for women, African Americans, gay men, transgender individuals, or other specific groups of people. Because members face similar challenges, they may feel an instant sense of community. These groups are volunteer, nonprofit organizations, with no fees (though sometimes there are small dues).