The Carl Vinson VA Medical Center iin Dublin, Georgia
Olen Hancock, whose life had faded in many ways, shot himself outside the entrance of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur earlier this month. He was 68.
A day earlier, Steven Pressley, after years of chronic pain, shot himself in the parking lot of a VA hospital in Dublin. He was 28.
At least 22 military veterans committed suicide at VA centers in the U.S. in the last 18 months, including a Texas man who shot himself this month in the waiting room of a VA clinic.
Veteran suicide is an acute crisis wrapped in a national crisis. Between 2005 and 2016, suicide rates in the general population climbed 21%. For veterans, already taking their lives at twice the U.S. rate, it climbed 26%. More than 6,000 veterans are dying by their own hands each year – nearly 20 a day.
The latest deaths renew questions about whether the VA, criticized and investigated for failing to provide timely or sufficient help to veterans, is doing enough to solve the problem. That is despite making suicide prevention a high priority in recent years.
From an update from Army Maj. D.J. Skelton: “Over 1,000 veterans (that have served a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan) have e-mailed me since Tom Ricks posted my FB article on his blog last Nov. stating that the only time they ever felt like committing suicide was from the stress of going through a medical board or the process of transition out of the military.”
Veterans who are married or in a live-in relationship have a higher risk of suicide than their single counterparts, according to a new study from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the University of Connecticut.
In May 2011, amid President Barack Obama’s troop surge, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division began leaving Afghanistan after a grueling year-long tour. By the end of the summer, the entire division had returned home to Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, greeted by a succession of parades and award ceremonies honoring the 101st’s sacrifice in some of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions, where a total of 131 Screaming Eagles lost their lives and many more were wounded. Chests were adorned with medals; families were reunited; alcohol flowed. It was a homecoming fit for a group of soldiers who had survived the storied division’s single bloodiest deployment since the Vietnam War.