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Land of the Brave?

By James Fagetti
April 24, 2014

Land of the free, home of the brave, but what happens when the brave come back and their civilian counterparts reject them? What happens if the men and women that come back are rejected for what they learned in their service for their country, and are not given new purpose through a civilian occupation? These men and women begin to feel like outcasts and feel as if they are separated from the rest of mainstream society. With this rejection, and with the aid of mental trauma suffered through their service, many of these men and women choose to commit suicide than rather continue the fight to reintegrate back into civilian society. These men and women, in many cases, are our veterans who are returning from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. These brave citizens turned soldiers have put themselves in harms way to defend this country and its values and in return these veterans are often times rejected for civilian occupations due to stereotypes of PTSD crazed combat vets who go on killer rampages as they crumble under the weight of their mental condition. With this issue of being rejected, many veterans feel they lack a sense of purpose and camaraderie which they found through their service. Through these feelings, many veterans decide to instead end their lives. 30% of all veterans have considered suicide.1 The United States needs to not just put funding into treating PTSD and other mental traumas that many veterans have sustained, but also for education of what signs to look for in preventing veteran suicide.

How long has this been happening?

Basu, Moni. "Why Suicide Rate among Veterans May Be More than 22 a Day." CNN. Cable News Network, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/21/us/22-veteran-suicides-aday/>.

Although high rates of veteran suicide have been occurring for years, the issue is now just truly coming to the forefront of the American publics conscience. Many larger issues oftentimes lead the veteran to consider taking his or her own life. For some examples, the bigger issues of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), veteran homelessness, veteran unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and feelings of disconnection from civilian society all contribute to the issue of veteran suicide. Although these issues have been occurring for as long as wars have been fought, these issues started to move forward in the conscience of ordinary Americans at the end of the Vietnam War. The defeat of the Vietnam War made it easier to put at the forefront that there are veterans who were damaged by their experience in comparison to the major victory of World War II. As the decades rolled on after the Vietnam War, research was done towards finding treatments for PTSD. And finally as the conflicts of the United States involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan these issues of unemployment, homelessness, drugs and alcohol abuse have become heavily apparent in the lives of many of those veterans who are returning from serving overseas. In a recent IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) member survey, 47 percent of respondents said they knew an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who had attempted suicide2

Source: www.afsp.org

The military is aware that one of the biggest issues that faced veterans returning from the Vietnam conflict was a stigma against reaching out for help. Admiral William McRaven, head of SOCOM (Special Operations Command) stated, We're not going to make that mistake this time around. We're going to put everything we can into making sure we're

Carroll, Chris. "Fight against Suicide Tops Vet Group's Agenda for 2014."Stripes.com. Stars and Stripes, 24 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <http://www.stripes.com/fight-against-suicide-tops-vet-group-s-agendafor-2014-1.274258>.

taking care of these kids and their families."3 With this direction of the military attempting to do everything it can to reduce the amount of military suicides, the stigma of getting help, such as going to a veterans group such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or the American Legion, or just going to seek help in general.

What continues this issue of veteran suicide?


Each war brings about new victims and new issues, but PTSD seems to remain constant and it brings about the situation of veterans feeling out of place in civilian society. This in many cases leads to homelessness, unemployment, and in some extreme cases drug and alcohol abuse. Finally, in some cases the veteran does not feel that they can handle the stress on their mind and their feelings of isolation any longer and they then feel the urge to and may even commit suicide. A high rate of PTSD and substance abuse as well as difficulties reintegrating into society may also contribute to suicidal thoughts and behavior.4

Source: huffingtonpost.com

"US Special Ops Forces Committing Suicide in Record Numbers." RT USA. RT USA, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <http://rt.com/usa/special-ops-record-suicide-rate-536/>. 4 Blumenthal, M.D. Susan. "Stopping the Surge of Military Suicides: How to Win This Preventable War." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Sept. 2012. Web. 23 Apr. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-blumenthal/military-suicide_b_1884083.html>.

As shown in the graphic above, every 65 minutes a veteran commits suicide, and in a more startling statistic, more active duty U.S. soldiers die from suicide than from combat. In an article by the Washington Post on the story of a veteran who is having troubles with his reconnecting back to civilian society, the article writes, Like so many vets, they missed the camaraderie. And as with so many vets, their lives at home were defined less by togetherness than by isolation, which took on many forms. 5 Oftentimes the isolation that veterans feel is the key trigger for their issues and their possible eventual suicide. This isolation can result from the feeling that a brotherhood has been lost, coming back to a nation of civilians who seem cruelly indifferent to the actions that are occurring in oversea combat operations, and finally possible isolation from family due to past service. Many veterans try every option available to cure their feelings of isolation. For example, in the Washington Post article that I cited, it said that the veteran had He had tried to replace the war by working construction, roughnecking in the oil fields and enrolling in community college. He had tried divorce and remarriage; alcohol and drugs; biker gangs and street racing; therapy appointments and trips to a shooting range for what he called recoil therapy. He had tried driving two hours to the hospital in Laramie, proclaiming himself in need of help and checking himself in. 5 And the fact that is most scary about this article is not the fact of how isolated he feels, but the fact that there are many more vets like him, with some that are even worse off.

Who is affected by this issue?


In the most direct fashion, the veterans and their families and friends are the most directly affected by this issue. Veterans themselves are impacted because there are some veterans that do not have many apparent issues after their service and they have readjusted adequately to civilian society and they receive a stereotype of being a crazy, suicidal combat vet. Veterans are also affected through the fact that more are lost to suicide than combat and suicide is an issue that we can prevent through policy changes and education of others. Society itself is impacted by this issue because as shown in this statistical graphic,

"Ugh. I Miss It.." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2014/04/19/ugh-i-miss-it/>.

Source: takepart.com

society loses approximately 22 responsible, hard-working citizens every day who could change society for the better. For example, you could ask yourself, What if that veteran that just committed suicide was possibly our next president? or What if that veteran who just killed himself was the next big activist who would make a great change in our society?. And even still, even if the veteran who commits suicide was not destined to do those things, a person who is alive can still help others, and continue their service by contributing to this nation as a civilian rather than just giving heartache to their friends and family by committing suicide.

What can be done about this issue?


Veteran groups such as the VFW and the American Legion can reach out to those who are coming back and show those who are returning that they are not alone in their struggle with feeling separated from the rest of society, and as if they are in a constant state of transition from combat to civilian society. For example, the Military Veteran Peer Network in partnership with the TexVet initiative (of the Texas A&M Health Science Center) helped, as shown in this infographic, 1.618 million veterans.

Source: texvet.org

Another policy change that could help solve this issue is if the government put more funding towards educating those who know veterans who have recently returned that may be at risk for committing suicide. Many family members of veterans who eventually committed suicide oftentimes see differences in their loved ones behaviors that could foreshadow a future of mental pain and possible eventual suicide. In an article by CNN, Libby Busbee was the mother of a veteran who was distraught from his experiences during his service, for example, He would rarely go out of the house and seemed ill at ease among civilians. "I reckon he felt he no longer belonged here," After one especially

fraught night, Libby awoke to find that he had slashed his face with a knife.6 William Busbee, Libby Busbees veteran son, would commit suicide on March 20 2013. If Libby had more education on the warning signs for a serious problem with Williams mental issues since he had returned, then William could have been helped and possibly even eventually returned to a normal capacity in civilian society.

What may oppose the solutions to the issue?


Opposition may arise to these solutions through the fact that many veterans sometimes are too stubborn to seek out help from groups or medical care, thus locking themselves away from help. Some veterans are disinterested in the fact that many veterans groups consist of oldies (Vietnam, Korea, and World War II) veterans who some younger veterans feel may be out of touch with combat since they are from a different era of war. Another opposition to these solutions could be that some veterans are unable to afford medical care for their mental issues.

What has been done to fix this issue?


The Department of Veterans Affairs (Department of VA) has several programs to help vets who are struggling with recovering from combat and transitioning in civilian society. And as stated before, many veterans groups have been formed to support those who are coming home from their service overseas. But these two things alone have not been enough as veteran suicide has not declined recently. Thus, these veterans groups need to be promoted and education needs to be more prevalent in the veteran community for family members on what the warning signs are for suicidal behaviors. For the future, the Department of VA and the different veterans groups should reach out to different veterans who have survived with these issues, and analyze the ways that they coped with the situation. Also, a sub-team should be developed to develop more effective options because suicide rates have been only going up for veterans.

What implications are there in the proposed solutions?


For financial implications, money will need to be spent by the Department of VA to put more emphasis on educating the public. Money will need to be spent by the veterans groups to promote themselves to a greater extent to help veterans who may be struggling. Politically, the Department of VA must be approved by the government for

Pilkington, Ed. "US Military Struggling to Stop Suicide Epidemic among War Veterans." Guardian Weekly. Guardian News and Media, 01 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/01/us-military-suicide-epidemic-veteran>.

any increases in their budget, and this would be necessary to put a greater emphasis on suicide prevention education.

How will these solutions be implemented?


Through our recommendations, the Dept. of VA will implement our recommendations of how to solve the issue of veteran suicide. Finally, success looks like when veteran suicide rates finally begin to decline from where they are today. Through education, loved ones of troubled veterans will know how to respond to warning signs of suicidal behavior, and with more veterans will find their way to supportive veterans groups who only desire to help.

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