It's Not About the Numbers, It's the Fact That It's Still Happening

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 9:10 PM

“22 Veterans commit suicide per day.”

How many times have we veterans heard this?

It has been widely associated with the current generation of veterans, but according to The LA Times and The Washington Post, those numbers are skewed and are not a true representation of the suicide problem with the current generation of veterans.

The number 22 comes from a VA study done about veteran suicide in 2010. The study used death records of 21 states and did not discriminate for age or the conflict in which the veteran served before his suicide. In fact, the actual study found that the majority of veterans committing suicide were over age 50.

Alan Zarembo wrote in his article for The LA Times in December 2013: “Many experts believe that the farther a veteran is from military service, the less likely it is that his or her suicide has anything to do with his or her time in uniform. In other words, many older veterans are killing themselves for the same reasons that other civilians in the same age group kill themselves: depression and other mental health problems coupled with difficult life circumstances.”

Basically, he is asserting that these individuals would have committed suicide anyway, and their military service had little to no bearing on their deaths.

I disagree; it definitely has bearing on how and why these individuals committed suicide. The study did not account for whether the veterans had actually seen combat or if they had been deployed in any form, but the mental scarring that military service brings about is sudden and severe. A veteran could be fine for years, having shelved his/her service memories or buried them underneath career or family. But eventually, they surface and haunt the veteran.

In her June 2015 article posted to taksandpurpose.com, Stacy Bare wrote this: “As soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, we all prided ourselves in uniform on not making the emotional decision, but the right decision. As veterans, we should have the same commitment and that means we need to act within the framework of facts — in advocacy and programming. Inadvertently, we’re preying on a well-intentioned public by citing a misleading statistic to receive financial support and that’s not right.”

It looks as if Bare feels that the veterans’ community has been duped in some way, that we have been misjudged and mislead to believe a boldface lie.

Bare went on to write, “As veterans, we’re far more resilient than we’ve given ourselves credit for. If we do our job now and extend a helping hand to our brothers and sisters over 50, we can decrease that suicide rate, and ensure our generation avoids despair in the future.”

This is a nice recovery, but still a little too late in my opinion.

The fact is simply this: Veterans are killing themselves.

It does not matter when or how the veteran served. The problem is they are dying by their own hand and the VA or the government seems ill-equipped to help the problem.

When I returned home from deployment from Iraq, before going up the road to my mother-in-law’s house to see my kids, my wife and I stopped in at our local Veterans Of Foreign Wars (VFW) club so I could try to catch my breath before what I was positive would be an emotional reunion with my kids.

I walked in the door and the first person I saw was Cecil. Cecil is a Vietnam veteran. I grew up with Cecil’s kids; he is a man I admired my whole life. He half ran to me and hugged me so hard he about lifted me off of my feet (not an easy task given my size).

He said to me while half-crying, “Welcome home brother.”

Here is a man my father’s age, now calling me “brother.” A man I looked up to, and now, he considers me his brother.

Like it or not, we veterans belong to the same fraternity, the same brother/sisterhood. We all share a bond so deep that not many will understand or even begin to comprehend. That reason alone should be enough to do more for each other.

So maybe the numbers are off. Maybe the study is not accurate. That does not mean we should ignore it or try to mitigate the issue of veteran suicide. We should stand up as a community, demand a better study be conducted and demand that something be done.

My biggest fear is that this issue will become nothing more than a talking point in this year’s elections. If no one will speak for us then we must find our own voice and demand we be heard.

George Schmidt is a Staff Writer for The Spectator.

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