We Need To Keep Talking About The Veterans Suicide Rate

Community
AP Photo/Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

From what I understand, he really didn’t say anything. He just walked into an abandoned building on the edge of the forward operating base’ outside perimeter in Iraq, stuck his belt-fed M249 barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger. He didn’t live long after that. I didn’t see him, as they rushed him into the battalion aid station, since by then I was already attached to a unit as the first line medical support. I don’t think anyone ever knew exactly why he did it either. He didn’t even get a mention on the memorial, a painted blast wall with the names of others who had died of combat-related injuries. No, instead his name would be forever associated with the euphemism the Army liked to use at these times, “died as a result of non-combat related injuries.”


This wasn’t even my first time dealing with suicide in the military. Back stateside, as a junior noncommissioned officer, I found one of my guys too drunk to stand wallowing in the filth that was his slow descent into madness surrounded by empty bottles of vodka and a smattering of empty blood pressure medication. He lived, and after a stint on the shoelace-free wing of the hospital, got out. I have always wondered if he did it to get out of the week-away deployment.

For those of us who have worn the brassard with the Red Cross, the visceral reaction from blood and guts doesn’t really have the same effect anymore. I’ve seen enough to know that Hollywood fails to paint the picture right. The color is off, everything is way to clean, and the smell can’t ever be conveyed. While I can get used to seeing it, I haven’t ever found an explanation that completes the loop.

I remember going to a mandatory suicide prevention briefing while in Afghanistan, right before going out on a mission. I found the entire event to be grossly ironic. It was the only briefing that I would have considered killing myself just to get out of; let alone the ridiculous rhetoric that ultimate translated something to the effect of, “Don’t kill yourself, we want you to die for your country.” Leave it to the military to create the opposite intended effect, while simultaneously patting itself on the back and lauding the prowess of its genius.

Suicide is often tied to mental health disorders as well as substance abuse, and is usually precipitated by psychological distress and hopelessness. I have experienced few other things that have caused me as much psychological distress and hopelessness as my tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Even without questionable leadership, or a direct line supervisor who told me how much he hated me, deployments can be a difficult time and increase mental stress on service members. Place that on top of spouses who decide to leave their partners during deployment, the near-constant pace of missions, guard duty, lack of sleep, and the draining psychological demand of giving every pile of garbage in the street the closest scrutiny. I can understand why people in full control of their faculties decide to turn it all off. I thought about it at least once. What is harder to understand are the people who live through all of that, come home, and then decide to end it.

To address that question, Congress put forth the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act this year, named after a Marine combat veteran who took his own life in 2011. To me, there can be no doubt that this was done in a swell of surging American patriotism, combined with increasing awareness of the lack of proper veterans care available to service members returning from war.

If passed, the act will increase the VA’s ability to meet the demand for mental health care, decrease general or dishonorable discharges from affecting access to VA treatment centers, which may be a result of PTSD/TBI symptomatology rather than  a direct affront to health, moral and good discipline, require the Department of Defense and National Guard to review the staffing requirements for directors of psychological health in each state, among other changes. While the act was introduced back in July by representatives Jeff Miller of Florida and Tim Walz of Minnesota, it has yet to be voted on by either the House or Senate.

I could encourage everyone to go out and write your congressman or senator to support the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, but instead, I think that it would make a bigger impact if you were to tell your story about veterans suicide.

Marvel's The Punisher/Netflix

Frank Castle is hanging up his Punisher garb — for now.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army General Jospeh Votel, head of Central Command, visits an airbase at an undisclosed location in northeast Syria, February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Stewart

AIRBASE IN NORTHEAST SYRIA (Reuters) - The commander of U.S.-backed forces in Syria called on Monday for about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces to remain in Syria to help fight Islamic State and expressed hope that the United States, in particular, would halt plans for a total pullout.

Read More Show Less

The Navy is bulking up its fleet of autonomous robot vessels with the purchase of a cadre of four of Boeing's extremely large and incredibly grandiose unmanned Orca submarines.

Read More Show Less

Let's talk about love – and not the type of love that results in sailors getting an injection of antibiotics after a port call in Thailand. I'm talking about a deeper, spiritual kind of love: The Pentagon's passionate love affair with great power competition.

Nearly a decade ago, the Defense Department was betrothed to an idea called "counterinsurgency;" but the Pentagon ditched COIN at the altar after a Jody named Afghanistan ruined the romance. Now the U.S. military is head over heels in love with countering Russia and China – so much so that the Pentagon has named a cockroach "The Global War on Terrorism" after its ex so it could be fed to a Meerkat.

Read More Show Less
Homes at Fort Benning undergo lead paint removal as the U.S. Army mobilizes to protect residents against lead poisoning hazards in Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S., September 10, 2018. (Reuters/Andrea Januta)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Deeply troubled by military housing conditions exposed by Reuters reporting, the U.S. Army's top leadership vowed on Friday to renegotiate its housing contracts with private real estate firms, test tens of thousands of homes for toxins and hold its own commanders responsible for protecting Army base residents from dangerous homes.

In an interview, the Secretary of the Army Mark Esper said Reuters reports and a chorus of concerns from military families had opened his eyes to the need for urgent overhauls of the Army's privatized housing system, which accommodates more than 86,000 families.

The secretary's conclusion: Private real estate firms tasked with managing and maintaining the housing stock have been failing the families they serve, and the Army itself neglected its duties.

Read More Show Less