Suicide Among Our Military & Veterans: Still a National Tragedy
Bill Whittle in a recent Afterburner episode talked about the death of Robin Williams, pointing out that more than 20 Veteran/Military members take their lives every single day.
Where are the Hollywood headlines and social media awareness for them? Robin Williams was an amazing actor, yet those who knew him will miss more than just his movies and characters. We see a media and social network frenzy whenever someone famous passes away, but what about those who aren’t well known and the effects on their loved ones? Does anyone truly care about our Troops and Veterans?
In 2012, 295 of our active duty military died in combat, 349 killed themselves. Think about that for a minute. In the same year, 6,500 Veterans killed themselves–or put into perspective, that’s about one every hour and a half.
Earlier this year it reported that among our most elite, members of our Special Forces have been taking their own lives at record levels for the last two years, according to the head of the US Special Operations Command (SOCom) in Tampa. Adm. William McRaven mentioned in a speech at a conference in Florida earlier this year, “My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat… And anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It’s that simple.”
According to the Pentagon, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps special operations commands comprise about 59,000 people. Kim Ruocco, director of suicide prevention programs for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an advocacy group for military families said members of the close knit special operations community often fear that disclosing their symptoms will end their careers, and the reduction in the armed forces the past few years has “put additional pressure on soldiers, whose sense of community and self-identity is often closely tied to their military service.”
Adm. McRaven told those at a congressional hearing in February, “The welfare of these brave service members and their families is critical to our command’s readiness and our ability to accomplish the mission. It is also a moral imperative.”
A poll put out this year showed that more than half of post 9/11 Veterans know at least one fellow Vet who has attempted to or taken their own life. More than 1,900 Veterans have killed themselves so far this year.
Many people are affected by this heart breaking epidemic. Margy Agar is one of them.
Margy’s daughter U.S. Army Sgt. Kimberly Agar died in October 2011. Kimberly suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) after an IED attack in October 2007. Margy attributes TBI and stress in combat to her daughter’s depression. Before Kimberly volunteered and joined the Army she was outgoing, loved to sing, and performed the National Anthem at many events including Texas Rangers baseball games. According to her mom, Kimberly’s goals were “To sing, to see the world and to serve.”
Margy has been speaking out about TBI/PTSD related issues and suicide and I asked her, if she could tell Americans one thing, what would it be?
“Though someone takes their own life, they do not ‘commit’ suicide…they die ‘from’ it. You cannot commit cancer, diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease or a TBI. Since you cannot commit any kind of physical issue or illness you cannot commit any kind of mental health issue.
“That being said as in my daughter’s case she received a TBI that was not diagnosed or treated for four years. A TBI can put micro tears in your brain, rewiring your brain and can end up causing other symptoms such as insomnia and personality changes among other physical symptoms. If these physical symptoms are not treated, especially insomnia because it can lead to depression as your body runs out of needed fuel, then it will become a mental health issue even though the physical wound came first.
“They die from sadness and depression which itself is a disease…and suicide is the trigger of a gun, but it’s the depression that pulls the trigger. We need to have more compassion for the family and friends of those who die from suicide and take out the criminal aspect. That aspect being that the perpetrator and the victim are the same person is a no-win situation and nothing but more sadness for surviving friends and families and it can tear families apart.”
“Do you understand what ‘signing a blank check’ means? Do you realize it is an entire family that actually signs the check which pays our country any amount that includes up to and including their (soldier/veteran) life and that once they take the oath they feel that it never has an end date? Why?
“How much do you know about the sacrifices of our military and do you support them in any way other than slapping a magnet on your car? Why? Why or how do you feel knowing what I just said about the blank check, when you see homeless veterans, or those not getting the very best health care?
“Professional football players have the next 65 years to put in claims about concussions and traumatic brain injuries from playing a football game. They also will receive oxygen treatment hyperbaric treatment for free where as many veterans it will be a cost that they may not be able to afford. WHY? How can we change this since they defended the very freedoms allowed to continue day to day, including professional sports entertainment?”
Margy is one of thousands of Gold Star parents who have lost a military child to suicide. Suicide is hard enough for any family to endure, but for military families, she poignantly points out the difference. “Military suicide survivors feel the loss is devalued and viewed differently than those being honorably and heroically Killed in Action and the number one cause is the “stigma”.
Our soldiers /veterans are perceived as less than a hero by blatantly being left off of the DOD’s daily announcements as of those KIA, or loss due to active duty accidents. Their total life is devalued just because of the how they died, instead of the how they lived.
This is a national tragedy and it is up to all of us to help our heroes and returning heroes to heal inside as well as outside. There are still vital issues we must demand our from our government -to ensure that the VA is going to be held accountable and the recently signed Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act will be implemented.
Veteran friend and fellow blogger, Citizen Soldier recently wrote, “Make no mistake; we have to hold the politicians, and those who come in their footsteps in the coming years, to this law. VA Secretary McDonald will need our help if he is to change the culture of corruption, dishonesty, cowardice, and greed once and for all… As the electorate, we have to let our representatives and senators know that we want the VA (in essence the U.S. itself) to live by the same code our Military Veterans live and die by.”
When Obama signed the VACA into law, he said, “To care for him [or her] who shall have borne the battle.” That’s the heart of the VA’s motto. That’s what the bill I’m about to sign will help us achieve… Implementing this law will take time. It’s going to require focus on the part of all of us. And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now… we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our service members and our veterans.”
The day that Robin Williams died, so did at least 20 U.S. Troops and Veterans. They need to know that their country cares, that we care. They gave us our freedom. They don’t ask anything from us, but we owe them so much more than a month’s worth of tweeting or lip service.
One way you can help our Veterans is to make sure your representatives are keeping the VA accountable. You can donate time or money to organizations that help Veterans and returning troops or even go to your local VA and volunteer there. You can even do something as simple as thank a Veteran any time you see one.
We need to help people with depression whether civilian or military, because those who kill themselves leave more than heart break behind for those who love them.
If you are active duty or a Veteran, or you know someone who is, who is hurting, please reach out to someone. Visit: http://www.operationrestoredwarrior.org/