I am a female member of the United States Army Reserve. And last year a friend of mine did something that changed my life. He committed suicide. Before he took his life, he admitted to having recurring nightmares of a firefight he was caught in in Iraq. He said he would play scenarios in his mind of what he could have done differently to save the lives of those killed in action that day. When his wife filed for divorce, he shut down completely. He felt alone and thought no one could possibly understand. On Christmas Eve 2013, he committed suicide. While I was angry at him, I was angrier at myself. I realized that I can’t sit back and do nothing... because he wasn’t alone. I know many of my fellow soldiers who are just like him. They have issues that range from difficulty dealing with flashbacks, feelings of alienation or anger, depression, loneliness or an inability to get close to others. I channeled my anger and started to do research, and what I found was startling. It is reported that 22 veterans and one active duty military member commits suicide every day. These are brave and strong men and women who fought for our country. And I can’t let another day go by without doing something about it. There is a need to serve the 21.8 million veterans who live in the United States and the 1.3 million individuals who currently serve on active duty, as well as the friends and family members who support all of them. An analysis was conducted of 289,328 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought health care at VA medical centers from 2002 to 2008. Of these, 106,726 were given mental health care which included 62,929 diagnosed with PTSD and 50,432 diagnosed with depression (Reinberg, 2009). To compound the problem 300,000 troops have been deployed to the Middle East at least three times. Multiple tours increase rates of combat stress by 50% (Cromie, 2006). While there are resources available to help our veterans, an evaluation them reveals they are not having a big enough impact. Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 1.1 million calls and made more than 35,000 life-saving rescues. In 2009, the Veterans Crisis Line added an anonymous online chat service and has engaged in more than 144,000 chats. In November 2011, the Veterans Crisis Line introduced a text-messaging service, and has since responded to more than 18,000 texts–providing another way for Veterans to connect with round-the-clock support. (United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 2014). The concern is that since the establishment of the Veterans Crisis Line in 2007, the suicide rate among veterans has actually increased. See Figure 3 below (Kemp & Bossarte, 2012). Every veteran or current military member that kills him or herself is a tragedy of war that can’t be ignored. The pain of suicide doesn’t stop with the death, but lives on through the family and friends left behind who wonder what they could have done to stop it. And the blood is on the hands of the government and society who did very little to prevent it. It is important to understand that what is needed varies for each individual. Whatever the issue may be, it is my goal to let every one of them know that they need to say something. No one is in this alone. Whether it is the veteran, military member, a family member or a friend who reaches out, assistance can’t be provided unless someone knows it’s needed. So if you need help... SAY SOMETHING. If you know someone who needs help... SAY SOMETHING! There has always been the stigma in the military that you must suck it up and drive on. But asking for help shows maturity and confidence. It is a sign of strength, not weakness. And dealing with PTSD or any other mental health issues isn’t about what is wrong with veterans; it’s about what happened to them. One small crack doesn’t mean you are broken, it means that you were put to the test, and you didn’t fall apart. I wasn’t able to help my friend. But if I can reach out and make a difference in the life of one veteran or service member, then I will have reached my goal. You are not alone, you just need to say something.
References Cromie, William. (August 17, 2006). Mental casualties of Vietnam War persist: Lessons learned could be applied to Iraq. Retrieved on June 1, 2014 from http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2006/08.24/99-ptsd.html Kemp, J. & Bossarte, R. (2012). Suicide Data Report, 2012. Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Services, Suicide Prevention Program. Retrieved on June 1, 2014 from http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/suicide-data-report-2012-final.pdf Reinberg, Steven. (July 16, 2009). Many Veterans Need Mental Health Care. Retrieved on June 1, 2014 at http://consumer.healthday.com/mental-health-information-25/depression-ne... United States Census Bureau (2013). CB13-FF 27. Retrieved on May 31, 2014 from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/facts_for_features_spec.... United States Department of Veterans Affairs website. (2014). Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs: Veterans and Mental Health. Retrieved on May 20, 2014 from http://www.va.gov/opa/issues/mental_health.asp.