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There is a statistic that has been widely quoted in the veteran community that highlights an estimated 22 veterans a day are committing suicide. It is a deeply troubling statistic and has galvanized the veteran movement, both from inside the military and veteran communities, and externally, to bring about a wide range of programming nationwide. The statistic, however, is widely misunderstood.
This figure --- 22 veterans a day commit suicide — while widely touted by politicians, media outlets, veterans service organizations, among others, comes from the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report, which analyzed the death certificates of 21 states from 1999 to 2011, and often is not provided within the right context. The report itself, as cited by the Washington Post earlier this year, warned, “It is recommended that the estimated number of veterans be interpreted with caution due to the use of data from a sample of states and existing evidence of uncertainty in veteran identifiers on U.S. death certificates.” As an example, the average age of veteran suicides within the data set was nearly 60 years old, not representative of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans generation.
A more recent study, which surveyed 1.3 million veterans who were discharged between 2001 and 2007, found that “Between 2001 and 2009, there were 1650 deployed veterans and 7703 non-deployed veteran deaths. Of those, 351 were suicides among deployed veterans and 1517 were suicides among non-deployed veterans. That means over nine years, there was not quite one veteran suicide a day,” according to the Washington Post.
While veterans have a suicide rate 50% higher than those who did not serve in the military, the rate of suicide was, as the LA Times reported, “…slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, suggesting that the causes extend beyond the trauma of war.”
Coming home from war, a six-month deployment on a ship, or simply transitioning from a life in uniform to a life without one, can be difficult and the various state and federal systems set up to deal with this transition and life after military services are unable to meet the need. That is not to say these programs — the Veterans Affairs entitlement and benefit programs like medical care, the G.I. Bill, the VA Home Loan, etc. — are not helpful; they are. But, for my generation of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, our suicide rate is closer to one a day and most likely to occur in the first three years of return. While this this is still very troubling, it is not 22.
Still, there are further steps needed in bridging the gap created by those who serve and those who don’t. Supporting integration back into families and communities requires robust public-private partnerships. The veterans, as well as the communities they live in, are both responsible for filling or bridging that gap, though not necessarily equally.
The challenges of adjustment and transition, post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, and physical disabilities, all need to be addressed especially as these things result in barriers to education, employment, health care, and overall individual well-being. Many of these needs are being met by a combination of different veteran-serving nonprofits and VA support. Unfortunately, there are still gaps in the system.
We in the veteran advocacy community need to tailor our programming, especially if we are in the business of preventing suicides, to respond to what we’ve learned from the data. One suicide is one suicide too many. Effective programming to help service members, veterans, and families transition to a positive life after service in their first three years home from service is a must.
Another requirement is fostering supportive community relationships for veterans, and really for all people, when life gets difficult as they surge past the age of 50. It also means that if we are serious about tackling the problem, we need to be creating, or rather shifting, programming specifically to address the needs of older veterans while maintaining preventative care for recently returned veterans.
As soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, we all prided ourselves in uniform on not making the emotional decision, but the right decision. As veterans, we should have the same commitment and that means we need to act within the framework of facts — in advocacy and programming. Inadvertently, we’re preying on a well-intentioned public by citing a misleading statistic to receive financial support and that’s not right.
As veterans, we’re far more resilient than we’ve given ourselves credit for. If we do our job now, and extend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters over 50, we can decrease that suicide rate, and ensure our generation avoids despair in the future.
Decorated Vietnam vet presents Purple Heart and Bronze Star to family of slain UNC Charlotte shooting hero
Hailed as a hero for knocking a shooter off his feet in a UNC Charlotte classroom, Riley Howell was posthumously awarded two of the military's highest honors in his hometown of Waynesville, North Carolina this week.
Howell, 21, and classmate Ellis "Reed" Parlier, 19, died when a gunman opened fire in their classroom in the Kennedy building on April 30.
CAIRO (Reuters) - After losing territory, ISIS fighters are turning to guerrilla war — and the group's newspaper is telling them exactly how to do it.
In recent weeks, IS's al-Naba online newspaper has encouraged followers to adopt guerrilla tactics and published detailed instructions on how to carry out hit-and-run operations.
The group is using such tactics in places where it aims to expand beyond Iraq and Syria. While IS has tried this approach before, the guidelines make clear the group is adopting it as standard operating procedure.
A sprawling new survey says a ‘culture of resilience’ helped US military families weather housing woes for years
A new survey of thousands of military families released on Wednesday paints a negative picture of privatized military housing, to say the least.
The Military Family Advisory Network surveyed 15,901 adults at 160 locations around the country who are either currently living in privatized military housing, or had lived in privatized housing within the last three years. One of the report's primary takeaways can be summarized in two lines: "Most responses, 93 percent, came from residents living in housing managed by six companies. None of them had average satisfaction rates at or above neutral."
Those six companies are Lincoln Military Housing, Balfour Beatty, Hunt, Lendlease/Winn, Corvias, and Michaels.
What's behind these responses? MFAN points to the "culture of resilience" found in the military community for why military families may be downplaying the severity of their situations, or putting up with subpar conditions.
"[Military] families will try to manage grim living conditions without complaint," MFAN says in its report. "The norm of managing through challenges, no matter their severity, is deeply established in military family life."
Judge approves negligence lawsuit against Air Force and Pentagon by victims of 2017 Sutherland Springs church massacre
The suit meets the criteria to fall under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows people to seek damages in certain cases if they can prove the U.S. Government was negligent, The Dallas Morning News reported.
Under most circumstances the doctrine of sovereign immunity protects the government from lawsuits, but in this case U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez held that failure of the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Defense to log shooter Devin Kelley's history of mental health problems and violent behavior in an FBI database made them potentially liable.