Action is being taken by military to address veteran suicides

The loss of a family member is an emotional roller-coaster ride. There are always the questions of why, along with anger and the absence. Suicide has got to be the most devastating of all deaths to the family. The answers never come as to why and what you could have done to prevent it, maybe a sense of guilt, something said or done that caused this death. In reality no one really knows what goes through the minds of suicide victims but, in most cases the signs are there — we just never see them.

On September 27, the United States Army did something that has never been done before — a total stand down to confront the effects that result in the suicides of our soldiers returning from combat. There are many questions that need to be answered on what it will take to eliminate this growing epidemic. The other branches of military service have not been left out of this epidemic of suicide — although their numbers are not as great as the U.S. Army’s, the problem still exists.

On the flip side of the coin, we have the veteran that is discharged and now must come home and try to become a normal citizen, start a new life, maybe raise a family, with a duffle bag full of extra baggage. A normal citizen is not what a veteran understands, nor would the normal citizen understand what a veteran is. A veteran will never be normal in the sense of how each of us perceives normal. The everyday get up, go to work, same routine is not what a veteran is used to. For a veteran to just jump back into civilian life is a challenge, a chore, and a struggle to cope with a civilian populace that has little structure or discipline.

The returning veteran also has to deal with family and friends who think things should get back to normal. The veteran is expected to get a job, buy a house, get married, and start a family. For the returning veterans, these may be the farthest things from their minds. I do know that the one thing the veteran would hope for is that he or she could get a job that could use the skills learned while serving. Now add the fact that this veteran may have experienced a very traumatic incident while in combat that will affect them the rest of their lives.

Post Traumatic Stress affects many veterans returning to civilian life. This is the extra baggage mentioned earlier, and it is no wonder that the suicide rate among veterans is rising. Here are some numbers for you — according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 18 veterans commit suicide every day, 1 in 5 nationally; that is 126 each week, 6,552 each year. One quarter of the nation’s homeless are veterans; 20 to 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress. Many of these veterans are medically discharged from the military with a 30 percent disability (a $700 payment monthly) which in most cases is less than Social Security. The great travesty is that at a commander’s discretion, these soldiers can be recommended for a bad conduct discharge, which leaves the soldier unable to gain the VA benefits needed for treatment.

Now this veteran has to go out and find work and deal with the prejudice that is placed upon them before they walk through the door. The public perception of the combat veteran is that they may be more detrimental to the work environment than what they can contribute to that business or organization. Post Traumatic Stress is the invisible injury that many fear more than the veteran with scars or missing limbs. Knowledge and understanding of the civilian populace is the key to overcoming this problem that plagues the veteran.

There is help for the veteran through the Veterans Administration, but the veteran needs to do their part too. The local veterans organizations are here to help get these veterans into the VA system for treatment. There are support groups to help cope with the issues of Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injuries and suicide prevention.

The veteran’s crisis line phone number is 800-273-8255; once on the line press “1.” There is also a live veteran’s chat; text to 838255 or visit www.veteranscrisisline.net. There are many more websites that I have found by searching “veterans suicide” at Bing or Google. We have been very blessed that we have not had any veteran suicides in our community, and it is everyone’s responsibility to help identify and prevent these tragic deaths. The information is available for us to gain the knowledge and do what we can to help the returning veteran get back to a civilian lifestyle the best they can. Ignorance is the unknown; stupidity is the lack of knowledge. Give a veteran a chance.

Robert Valencia is a retired army veteran, member of Montezuma County VFW post 5231, a member of DAV, and a member of the American Legion. Robert can bereached at 560-1891.

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