Some weeks ago, in my capacity I assisted in setting up military honors for a deceased veteran. In my dealings with the family, I discovered that the veteran had committed suicide. Why is unknown. He was a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran. A well-respected member of his community, a loving father, and a loving son. Then why did he take his own life? The members of his family and community asked what we could have done, and why did he take his own life. What were the daemons that haunted him? He was seeking counseling. Then Why? Had he reached a point where he did not want to go on? What was it that put him over the edge? What kind of pain was he in? We may never know.
Veteran suicide is a growing issue and is a crisis that can only be improved through recognition and discussion in society. However, one part of the story is that it is rarely recognized and how deep its history goes. This problem is not limited to a single country or point in time, nor is its importance limited to awareness days. Military suicide has occurred for centuries around the world but has most often been overlooked or ignored. It is a difficult topic. To save futures lives and pay respect to those who took their own lives, that history must be researched, acknowledged and debated.
And we must not forget the women veterans. The issue of suicide among women veterans is complex. Women in the military may deal with a complicated trauma history as well as greater scrutiny of their emotional state and mental health. Women’s health and emotional state is forgotten. Women veterans face the same emotional and physical issues as their male counterparts, but as often as not are forgotten.
Veterans’ suicide as I see it, is a pandemic, the same as COVID, without all the press coverage. The numbers break down to this: 22 per day, 154 a week, 8,008 per year. How can we cure this pandemic? There is no vaccine. No fast cure. There are phone numbers and outreach facilities, and other ways to help combat this pandemic. The big question is how to get this information out to the veterans in need. How do we help them in their time of need? We as a community have a moral obligation to see that all men and women veterans within the community have all the resources to help combat his pandemic.
This pandemic that has taken veterans from their friends and families. These deaths have taken their toll on everyone. The unanswered questions are, What could we have done; how could we have prevented it? What are the signs? All of these questions are almost unanswerable. We as a community must find the answers, and when we find them then we as a community must implement them. Then comes the question, how do we implement them? Some say it is the VA’s responsibility. Some say it is the veterans’ responsibility, or even the families’ responsibility. It is all these plus the communities’ responsibility.
We as a community need to look deep and say, What can I do to help put a stop to this pandemic? How can I reach out to those in need? When I reach them, then what can I do to help? I have a couple of friends who have told me what it takes to get a veteran admitted for a suicide watch. It is deplorable. It must be made easier. The VA is not really helpful when it comes to admitting a veteran for a suicide watch. While the veteran is being cared for, what of the family? They too suffer as much as the veteran. This pandemic has caused families to break up, putting more stress on the already fragile state of mind of the veteran. So now we must look at how can we help the families. Some families do not want to face the fact that the veteran committed suicide. In fact, it takes some time for the family to come to this realization. We must also not forget the children of a veteran’s suicide. How are they affected? All of these we as a community must look at.
Simply put, men and women veterans are dying. It is crucial that we as a community recognize this, discuss it and face it, and come up with a plan to stop it. What it comes down to: One veteran’s suicide is one too many.
Wesley S. Anderson, Department of Washington Chaplain, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 51 Service Officer, Post 51 Chaplain.
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