Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death in the Military
On average, 18 veterans per day take their own lives, officials said. All this bad news comes despite stepped-up efforts to encourage military members and their families to seek help if they feel overwhelmed, depressed or unsure of whether they want to keep on living.
“Who’s vulnerable? Everyone,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at a military suicide prevention conference. “Young and old, outgoing and reserved, male, female, officer, enlisted, me included. Warriors suffer emotional wounds just as they suffer physical ones.”
Even after acknowledging this fact, sadly, a question was recently asked by the military counselor “Did anyone need help dealing with the violence they encountered on the front lines in Iraq?” The distressing news was that not one person in the Marine unit raised their hand including Daniel Hanson a Marine who thought he didn't even have the "right" to ask for a therapist's help since he experienced far less death and destruction than did his friends in the infantry.
But the truth was Hanson did need help and after a two-year struggle with depression, drugs and alcohol. Hanson received the help he needed but it came after his marriage ended and he became estranged from his kids. Finally he attempted to end his own life. "I was pretty much a monster," he said. "I thought I had to kill myself before my kids learned what a loser their dad is."
Hanson decided to share his experiences with a Senate panel on Wednesday that explored the alarming rate of suicide among the nation's newest veterans. Among the other panelists was David Rudd, a suicide expert from the University of Utah who advocated for a change in military culture.
Rudd, the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Utah, said Hanson's story illustrates the need for a more extensive and innovative approach to mental health, which should stretch on for years after service members leave the military and begin when they are just recruits.
“We are not reaching the veterans who are the highest risk," he told the Senate committee. "The nature of the military culture is at the heart of the problem."
“The services train men and women to be warriors, and people with illnesses, particularly mental ones, are often considered weak.” Rudd said military training needs to change this perception and discuss potential mental health problems in basic training. Removing the stigma would go a long way in helping people like Hanson get help before their life unravels, Rudd said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched new ways to work with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. One the most “successful” is a new suicide prevention hot line catering to veterans -- 800-273-TALK. But Hanson said these services, while nice, are not enough. He stated he feels the government treated him as a number, not a person, and he finally received the help he needed at a private treatment center, where he stayed for 15 months.
While Rudd called the VA's programs "cutting edge," he suggested that they should partner with outside groups to continue treatment long after a veteran retires. He suggested programs involving colleges would be a good start, since many veterans who return from Afghanistan and Iraq will go on to get an education.
What we do know and understand is that the rate in the military keeps increasing even though the military states it is working on decreasing not just the stigma, but the huge numbers of completed suicides.