With everything our troops face overseas, you would think that being back in the states would give a sense of peace and calm, while providing safety from the horrors of war. But what if the battle doesn’t end when your tour does? And what exactly is
being done about the shocking rates of suicide in the veteran community? Many that are asking the tough questions are facing the tough answers . . . we may just be losing the battle at home.
According to the Center for a New American Security suicide report, in 2009 alone, almost 2,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have made suicide attempts. Even more troubling, 11 percent of those who didn’t succeed the first time try again within nine months. And if you want to look at the really staggering numbers, the VA estimates that a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes, or about 18 deaths per day.
One of the biggest problems is underscored by the last sentence, which makes it clear that these numbers are just estimates. There isn’t enough funding, or even an accurate system, to come up with exact numbers. And that struggle for information is on pace with the struggle to develop more mental health programs
for our men and women who are serving.Post-traumatic stress disorder
is finally being talked about openly, but it’s infrequently treated in the way it should be.Veterans Today
, a Military and Foreign Affairs journal, brings to light that only 16 states submit the cause of death among veterans, and points out that the VA uses 3-year-old data for its reports. Their main gripe is with the DOD, and their inability to take responsibility for the suicide pandemic facing our military, as well as the limited amount of information.
But what can we do when the most dangerous time for a service member is their readjustment to civilian life? As the battles rage on overseas, what kind of fight can we put into their continued safety? The authors of the CNAS study have a few suggestions.
First, the Army could adopt a program similar to that of the Marines, which utilizes a unit cohesion period after a tour ends. Protocol could be changed to keep the group together for 90 days after employment, where they can rely on each other and the already-established hierarchy to fit into their new lives a little easier.
The CNAS also supports the idea of removing guns from the houses of at-risk service members
. Surprisingly, the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act actually bans leaders from suggesting the removal of weapons from military members, despite their mental health. But researchers are looking for Congress to rescind the act, or at least allow open discussion for those who are severely depressed.
And, of course, they’re mostly looking to improve the analysis of veteran suicide data to open up new options for treatment. It’s impossible to fight an enemy that you don’t understand, and for too long veteran suicide has just been an ugly little secret that’s been swept under the rug and under-funded.
What kind of good could be done? The Veterans Crisis Line, launched in 2007 with little financial backing, has fielded more than 400,000 calls and has saved over 14,000 lives, according to the VA mental health website. That’s a whole lot of help from a pretty simple policy change.
So we can all do our part to support our troops, even after they join us in our daily rituals. And the Department of Defense can do a lot more too. Because support doesn’t always mean newer weaponry and safer gear . . . it can also mean a safer place to come home to.
"Army Times - Veteran Suicide." Air Force Times
. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2012. <http://www.armytimes.com/prime/2010/04/military_veterans_suicide_042210w/>.
"A Veteran Commits Suicide Every 80 Minutes." Veterans Today
. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2012. <http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/11/02/a-veteran-commits-suicide-every-80-minutes/>.