The Uncounted Cost of War: Veteran Suicides

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler probably discussed the true cost of war better than anyone. Butler, a two time Medal of Honor winner wrote in his book War is a Racket:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

Mangled bodies, shattered minds. The bodies get counted, the minds do not, and when a Marine, Sailor, Soldier, Airman or former serviceman or women ends their life due to suicide their name is not included on the casualty reports.

In January 2014 the Veterans Administration released a disturbing report that male veterans under 30 years old saw a 44% increase in the rate of suicide. The rate for women veterans increased by 11%. About 22 veterans a day committed suicide in 2013. That did not count those still on active duty numbers which are still high but have dropped somewhat since 2012 and previous years.

The VA National Mental Health Director for Suicide Prevention, Jan Kemp said “Their rates are astronomically high and climbing…” Kemp postulated that reasons for the spike might include “the pressures of leaving military careers, readjusting to civilian life and combat injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder…”

I believe that the stigma that many felt about getting psychological help while they were in the military continues on when they enter civilian life. Unlike the military where there is still some sense of camaraderie and a chance that the chain of command might force a service member to get help, no corresponding structure or community exists in the civilian world. Young veterans are often isolated and face new stresses while they are already on edge. Many find that the military occupation specialties that they trained for have no direct civilian counterpart, leaving them struggling in the civilian job market. Combat injuries as well as injuries sustained in training often continue on, limiting what they can do and the unseen injuries of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and Moral Injury, often undiagnosed and untreated lurk in the background.

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This is a national tragedy and crisis. Many of these young men and women are among the best and brightest. They volunteered to serve in time of war and now as the military, especially the Army and Marine Corps begin to shed large numbers of troops, many more will be thrust into a world that they may be ill equipped to survive.

They will attempt to go to work or attend school, quite often alone. There they will be surrounded by people who have no idea of the issues that they face or understanding of the military world that they left, or the places that they served. I think this social isolation will be a killer for many.

My recommendation is that people who work or go to school with these young veterans, or for that matter any veteran get to know them. Help them adjust to the world and keep an eye on them. Ask them how they are doing and just show that you care. You do not have to be a veteran to do that. Likewise get to know about the resources that are available for veterans and help direct them to them. Have the courage to care.

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Resources include the Veterans Crisis Hotline which is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached at (800)-273-8255, press 1, or here to chat online. They also allow veterans to send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day.

Another resource is the Real Warriors Live Chat. The a trained health resource consultant is ready to talk, listen and provide guidance and resources. They can be reached by calling 866-966-1020 or going to their live chat service here http://www.realwarriors.net/livechat.

Afterdeployment.org http://afterdeployment.t2.health.mil offers wellness resources for the Military Community. Service members in transition to civilian life can contact inTransition by calling 800-424-7877 or at their website http://www.health.mil/InTransition/default.aspx

To me this is personal. I still suffer from the effects of PTSD, TBI, Moral Injury and have been to the brink of suicide. I am doing a lot better, and I love life, and I can’t imagine living it without me.

However, I have known far too many veterans who have taken their own lives, or struggle with mental health issues, physical injuries and illness, or social isolation. Last January, about the time the VA report came out a brilliant and heroic senior officer I knew, Captain Tom Sitsch who helped me when I was collapsing due to the effects of PTSD took his own life. This is something that all of us have a stake in. Please help look out for our veterans.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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4 Comments

Filed under leadership, mental health, Military, PTSD, suicide

4 responses to “The Uncounted Cost of War: Veteran Suicides

  1. Shirley Dundas

    Praying for better days for everyone. Love, Mom——————————————–

  2. Merrell

    There are several good resources and VSO’s out there now who tackle this issue specifically. 22 Until Valhalla is the first one that comes to me.

  3. Excellent reporting this weekend from NY Times’ Dave Philipps on the suicides of Marines from 2/7’s 2008 deployment to Afghanistan: 4x rate of other veterans, 14x rate of their civilian peers.

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/20/us/marine-battalion-veterans-scarred-by-suicides-turn-to-one-another-for-help.html?referrer=&_r=0

    What is most concerning to me Steve, is not the failure of the Marines Corps and the VA in caring for these young men post-combat and post-service, those factors, tragically, seem to be a constant, but the fact that even after communicating with one another and banding together to help one another, Marines from 2/7 still took their own lives. Hence why early and proactive mental health treatment is so important for combat veterans. As you know Steve, and as I know, and, doubtless, as other readers of your writings know, when you reach the bottom, and when you are contemplating putting your suicide plan into action, there is a good chance you are not going to be reaching out for help.

    I will also contest Philipps’ assertion that there have not been studies of the relationship of combat, PTSD and suicide. If you go to the NIH’s online library, pubmed.gov, and search for those terms, many, many studies conducted over the last decades by government and academic researchers will appear.

    Peace and thank you for what you do Steve.

    Matt

  4. Pingback: The Rearview Mirror of 2015: Religion, Politics, and Terrorism | Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate

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