by – Sheri de Grom
Every sixty-five minutes a United States Military Veteran kills themselves. We lose one-hundred-fifty-four Veterans per week. The reality of how many Veterans commit suicide is unknown. The number is higher than the actual number provided. Two of our largest states, California and Texas, don’t report suicides.
Veterans have problems connecting with The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain help. Many Veterans don’t trust the VA and the abundance of double-talk that often occurs when they seek help. Fewer than half of our nation’s 22.3 million eligible veterans are enrolled with the VA.
The VA itself admits veterans face huge challenges getting their assistance. Once the veteran does ‘get into’ the VA system, appointments are difficult to get. After the initial appointment, there are long delays in receiving a treatment plan and follow through.
Vietnam era veterans, in particular, are often distrustful of the VA. Fifty-eight thousand American’s died in the Vietnam War. Over one-hundred-fifty thousand have committed suicide since the war ended.
Many older veterans are at the age where the structures of their lives are loosening up. Before retiring from their civilian careers, they pushed their depression and PTSD down and focused on work and the demands of family life. They returned from Vietnam and Korea without developing community involvement or other activities. Upon retirement, many turn to alcohol to push the unwanted wartime memories away. More than half of our veterans committing suicide are fifty or older.
A VA study reported that the percentage of older veterans with a history of VA health care that committed suicide was higher than that of veterans not associated with VA health care.
Attention to veteran suicide has focused on service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the most recent numbers reflect that seven out of ten veterans who have committed suicide are over the age of fifty.
Eleven years after the first troops entered Afghanistan and two years after combat operations ended in Iraq, our nation still does not know why its fighting men and women are dying after they come home. No governmental entity follows the fates of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who aren’t enrolled with the VA—nearly half of all recent veterans.
Last year, the San Francisco-based Bay Citizen reported that since 2007, more service members have died after returning home than in combat. VA officials told the news organization they had no interest in determining causes of death for every veteran, insisting the agency already had a handle on the problem.
If the VA has a handle on the problem, why are our service members committing crimes they have no interest in completing? They tell their buddies they want the pain to go away and the criminal action is referred to as “suicide by cop.” Other Veterans drink themselves to death or an overdose of drugs. Some eat their gun. Research reveals hundreds of one-vehicle accidents involve a Veteran driving into a no-win accident where death is guaranteed.
Achieving any health care program for a veteran within the VA system is a hit and miss situation. [I speak from years of experience in assisting hundreds of veterans obtain the health care they deserved]. It was from my position with JAG in California that I came head-to-head with the inadequacies of The Department of Veterans Affairs and knew Veterans would always be a part of my advocacy work.
Veteran suicides are not reported unless the family or someone close to the veteran elects to notify the VA that the death was a suicide. In this instance, the veteran is living independently of any VA programs and there’s no requirement to report the cause of death to The Department of Veterans Affairs.
In closing, while researching this and other topics I came across some disturbing facts about our Vietnam Veterans. I cannot take credit for compiling the information. Charlene Rubush recently reread Chuck Dean’s book, Nam Vet, and set them forth for consideration:
- Since 1975, nearly three times as many Vietnam Veterans have committed suicide than were killed during the war.
- Fifty-eight-thousand-plus Americans died in the Vietnam War. Over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended.
- The national accidental death and suicide rate among Veterans is fourteen thousand men per year—33% above the national average.
- Of those veterans who were married before going to Vietnam, 38% were divorced within six months after returning from Southeast Asia.
- The divorce rate among Vietnam Veterans is above 90%.
- Five-hundred thousand Vietnam Veterans have been arrested or incarcerated. There are an estimated 100,000 Vietnam Veterans in prison today, and 200,000 on parole.
- Drug and alcohol abuse problems range between 50% and 75%.
Forty percent of Vietnam Veterans are unemployed and 25% earn less than $7,000 per year.
Thank you for reading with me. I’d planned for this to be a September blog to go along with National Suicide Prevention Month. I had no idea just how much the topic and the proportionate numbers would pull at not only my heart and soul but at my emotional and physical self as well.