Bartenders untapped source of help for war veterans

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Help for veterans

A pilot study shows bartenders are in a good position to help war veterans who are stressed and may not reach out for help.

In a pilot study, researchers at Ohio State University discovered most bartenders would be more than willing to provide war veterans with needed help.

Keith Anderson, lead author of the study and assistant professor of social work at Ohio State explains, “Given the closeness of the relationships, these bartenders are in a really great position to help these veterans – if they are given the right training and the right tools.”

The researchers sent out surveys to bartenders employed at Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Ohio at 300 randomly selected VFW posts - 71 bartenders responded. Among those surveyed, 80 percent said they would be willing to refer veterans to services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bartenders also reported they viewed war veterans "like family". Seventy percent said veterans “always” or “often” shared their problems with them.

The survey results show why bartenders, with the proper training, could help identify and reach out to war veterans with PTSD, stress or in need, and who reportedly often communicate problems and needs while having a drink.

Anderson says, “We need to find the veterans where they are. Many of them may not be willing to go to a VA clinic to seek out help on their own. The VFW bartenders may be one of our best chances to reach some of these veterans." He also suspects bartenders may know more than most about the special problems faced by war veterans.


Given the findings, Anderson, has contacted the national VFW headquarters to see if he and his colleagues can put together a brief online training program for their bartenders. He emphasizes the goal is not to turn bartenders into therapist or mental health counselors, but rather to teach recognition of mental health problems and available resources.

The goal is to offer war veterans resources, but in a way that is not alienating. Anderson negates any concerns about that happening in a place where alcohol is served. In the study, bartenders revealed they already offer support and sympathy, listen to (veterans) problems and give advice.

“If the person who needs help is at a bar, that is where the outreach has to occur,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t make any sense to discard bartenders as potential helpers just because they are serving alcohol.”

The findings how VFW post bartenders could provide help for stress war veterans, given the proper training. Eighty percent of bartenders surveyed say they would be willing to refer veterans to services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Additionally bartenders at the VFW posts offer an ideal source of help because of existing organizational support.

Though the study was small, the authors concluded, "The development and implementation of simple, cost-effective training programs may hold the key to maximizing the helping abilities of VFW bartenders. With such training and support, VFW bartenders have the potential to help find ‘healing tonics’ for veterans – more powerful than any drink in the bar."

The study shows bartenders may be an untapped resource for veterans who are stressed, suffering from PTSD, or otherwise in need of help.

Journal of Military and Veterans' Health