Veteran Suicides Continue to Grow
Much ado has been made this month about the latest trends in Veteran Suicides. The month of March saw a sharp increase of Soldier suicides, with a total of 28 Soldiers committing the act, compared to 15 the previous month, according to the US Army (see the IAVA story here). On average, a Veteran commits suicide once very 80 minutes - a frightening statistic given the proportionally low number of those who have served in Global War on Terror compared to the overall US population; although Veterans comprise less than 1 percent of the total American population, more than 20 percent of all suicides in America involve a Veteran.
Columnist Nicholas D. Kristoff recently wrote an op/ed for the New York Times highlighting this growing trend, centering on the story of Ryan Yurchison, a young Iraq War veteran who sought help with the VA upon returning from the service, but was unable to get any. Unfortunately, he died of a drug overdose before he could see anyone - but his family strongly believes his was a case of suicide.
Such cases bring to light a growing problem in our country - more than 6,500 known Veteran suicides occur each year, more than the total number of direct combat casualties from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Simply being a Veteran doubles one's chances of suicide; the likelihood quadruples with Veterans between the age of 17-24.
These numbers are all too real for me; in my time in the Army, I've known two fellow service members who have committed suicide. Most people who have deployed can tell similar stories.
So what is the solution? Many are seeking to find one, though it is becoming clear that no one control measure can stem the tide by itself. The Department of Defense has implemented several programs aimed at both identifying those most at risk for suicide, and in decreasing the trend altogether. The services of the VA have been much improved, though it is still difficult for Veterans in many areas to get care due to a high backlog of cases. Simply put, there are not enough doctors to go around.
Personally, I'm not too surprised. The only time I can think of that the Government showed foresight in dealing with returning Veterans was in 1943, with the passage of the Serviceman's Readjustment Act, which allowed returning Veterans to attend college, or buy a home through Government programs. Before then, and, unfortunately, in later years, Veterans have simply come home from war and been released, told to go back home.
Whatever we do, though, I hope we do it soon. In a time when national attention is focused on George Zimmerman, the Supreme Court, and Zabol, Afghanistan, we must be ensure that this situation does not continue to eat at our core. These Veterans represent some of our best and brightest, in a time when our country can't afford to waste such potential. And these servicemen and women don't deserve to be left out to dry.