Rate of Suicide for Veterans is disgraceful.
How can the US address the tragedy of veteran suicide?
I am trying to understand how this has happened. After losing a close friend to suicide this year my interest in this became more personal.
Department of Veteran Affairs has taken the lead of Veteran suicide. We have approximately 22 veterans killed by their own had to everyone that is killed by an enemy combatant. That is a staggering number.
We see the division in our society that affects us civilians. Whether it be political, racial, denominational there is division. The rate of suicide has increased tremendously as a result of the isolation we faced in this country during the pandemic. It is this division that has Veterans feeling more isolated than ever. Without community, and without purpose we struggle to find meaning in life. Our goal is to create a compassionate community that supports the needs of Veterans.
Studies that deal with mental health tell us that any genetic mental health issue that can be passed on or childhood trauma significantly decreases your ability to cope with PTSD. They also tell us if you want to have a full evaluation for PTSD you need a minimum of 1 hour with a specialist to determine if you suffer from it. When you enter the military in order to join the armed forces, you go through a medical exam, a physical fitness test, a drug test, a vocational test so they can understand what you’re good at for service. But would you believe with the large number of PTSD we still do not have a standardized mental health evaluation to enter service. That needs to change.
When you leave the service, during your leave, you get a call averaging 15-30 minutes for an evaluation. National studies say it needs to be an in person one hour interview to appropriately determine a diagnosis of PTSD, or brain trauma. That is something we can improve upon.
Another thing that is spoken of in the Department of Affairs report the individuals who are self-medicating tend to be at a significantly higher risk of suicide, often medicating with alcohol, and drug. OUD, opioid use disorder is an epidemic the DOD is combating. Service men and women who come back from combat often are prescribed opioids for paid after service. Often, they also suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress disorder, they become addicted to the pain killers, because not only does it mask the pain in with body it also helps them cope the horrific things they had to see, hear, and do during time of service. Eventually overdosing.
Another challenge we have is when you are on duty you are taken care of by the Department of Defense. When you leave duty, you are then apart of the Department of Veteran Affairs. So, these active-duty members who seek help for their mental health issues have no transition to the Department of Veteran Affairs due to the privacy act.
Just recently it was legislated that there will be a data center that will house both DOD records and Vet Affairs health records. I want to take that thought a step further, what if when a veteran passes away from natural death, OD, or suicide we can feed that into Veteran affairs who is then able to access DOD records. ID what type of unit were they in, what contingencies and op did they operate in? Let us build a data center to identify if there are more units that are likely to develop PTSD so that we can get them mental health prior to deployment, prior to in theater, while they are in theater and get them counseling and help before they come home from theater. We can also apply this also for the general population. If we openly talk about this epidemic happen in America, we can get ahead of the problem.
This is an enduring and pressing issue. These are Heroes in crisis. Since 2017 25 veterans have taken their lives on the grounds of VA facilities in order to make a statement regarding their treatment. The VA is not trained appropriately to hand the backlog of care necessary to rehabilitate these physical and mental needs.
Veterans suicide lines get over 1000 calls a day. What we have is an epidemic. It doesn’t seem like the number is shrinking. Support is critical.
When you look into a veteran’s eyes you can see the pain. Many veterans struggle being out of the service with nothing to replace that sense of service, and loss of purpose. How easily does their service and sacrifice go unnoticed and forgotten. These men and women face discrimination in job opportunities, and society.
For a veteran there is no greater loss than a brother in combat. The biggest lie they continue to tell themselves is that they could have done something different. Every night when they close their eyes, they see their faces in their dreams. Friends and family try to bridge the gap. Which seems impossible, like talking to someone in a distant galaxy.
Every suicide is different. None can relate to the other and yes, traumatic brain injury and PTSD causes the brain to spiral out of control. When you add in drugs, alcohol, and loneliness it is a cocktail of disaster. No one caring anymore that you were in the service when your skills do not translate into worldly career standards. Civilian population does understand. The frustrations of the complexities that are incomprehensible.
Suicide for veterans is 22% higher than for people who never served. Rates are just as high for veterans who never served. Suicide risk for veterans compared to civilians for males is 19% higher than civilian men, and for females it is 150% higher than civilians. Pretty clearly because it is more likely for a woman who served are more likely to have a firearm vs civilian woman. The high rate of males suicide often are from gun use because it is more fatal than pills or other methods. Reach vet is a program contacting over 1000 calls a week which is still not enough. Statistically out of 22 veterans who commit suicide 14 did not have access to VA healthcare. So maybe the VA helps but it needs to be reaching more veterans.
You have to want it, and you have to course correct.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text 838255, or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.