— By JIM VINES
The good news: most people with military service never consider suicide. The bad news: the number of military and veteran suicides is rising, and experts fear it will continue to rise despite aggressive suicide prevention campaigns by the government and private organizations.
The suicide numbers are rising despite a determined push by the Pentagon and the VA to connect troops to a proliferation of resources. These range from immediate crisis intervention, to specific therapy for post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of trauma, to broader mental health services, peer mentoring, resiliency training, and financial and relationship counseling. VA specialists scour hundreds of places, from NASCAR events to American Indian reservations, for veterans in need. There is such a drive to provide resources that even the Pentagon can’t say how many programs it has or what they cost.
A study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center indicates there are many reasons to anticipate trouble. As an example, the center cites Vietnam veterans who have gone largely untreated for PTSD the many who bury their emotional wounds by drinking and with the use of drugs. As these veterans age into retirement, symptoms of anxiety and depression emerge. Another example cited the experiences of Air Force personnel who receive and process the war dead at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
War trauma effects all career fields who see the consequences of war even if they are not directly involved. Service members and veterans see things and experience events that are not necessarily life-threatening situations but that disrupt their sense of security, what is right and wrong, and that creates tremendous conflict.
A gradual change in the military culture has also raised stress within the ranks. Frequent deployments have increased the isolation of those left behind. Multiple infantry brigades leaving at the same time virtually leave some bases resembling ghost towns. In the 1980s and ‘90s families enjoyed the comforts of base living with schools, shopping, homes with manicured lawns and crimes and drugs staying mostly outside the main gates.
Now, military communities are vulnerable to the same social ills that effect civilians. Divorce, drug use and alcohol abuse have increased substantially leading to this increase in suicides. This shift inside the military community in the past few years has the VA scrambling to offer as many suicide hotlines and prevention treatment centers as possible.
These comprehensive, wide-ranging suicide prevention initiatives, including a toll free Veterans Crisis Line, placement of Suicide Penetration Coordinators at all VA medical centers and large outpatient facilities, has helped prevent countless attempted suicides.
Veterans or anyone concerned about a veteran can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. Let’s keep an eye and helping hand out and available to our veterans.
Speak to you again next week.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.