sunset from behind the wire

sunset from behind the wire

Sunday, February 22, 2015

22

Suicide does not discriminate.
RIP Captain Jamie Brunette, USAF
February 15, 2015
22 - That's how many American veterans will commit suicide today. That's how many commit suicide every day as a national average. 

The Chris Kyle story, his life and his death at the hands of a fellow veteran who was suffering from his experiences  underscores the problems that many veterans are going through. 

I had a "suck it up sailor" attitude myself until this particular problem almost added an in-law family member of mine to the twenty-two-a-day number. 

My family member served with the US Navy and when he came home from Afghanistan, he was screwed up. I mean, really screwed up. I don't usually write about this sort of personal thing on my blog but I am today as part of the Sunday Sermonette. We'll call him Joe.

I am personally furious that this number - 22 per day - even exists. To give all credit to the US Navy, as soon as they became aware of Joe's problem, they made working with him and getting him help a priority. Joe was suicidal and I'm not talking about pretend drama queen suicidal. The Navy put him on medication, watched him closely and helped him transition to a civilian job in the Navy. Today, over a year later, I'm pleased to report that he's off meds and his life seems to be mending. 

For every success story, there are 22 failures each day in  America. 

The Los Angeles Times is quick to point out that of the twenty-two suicides per day, most are not young people just back from the war. The article tries to diminish the statistic by suggesting that older veterans who took their own lives are somewhat less valuable or important than the young veteran suicides.

CNN indicates that the twenty-two suicides per day number is low and that the true number may be much HIGHER. The article is worth reading.

Former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, called the 
suicide rate among service members an epidemic.
(CNN Story, cited above) Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That's a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher.

The figure, released by the Department of Veterans Affairs in February, is based on the agency's own data and numbers reported by 21 states from 1999 through 2011. Those states represent about 40% of the U.S. population. The other states, including the two largest (California and Texas) and the fifth-largest (Illinois), did not make data available.
Who wasn't counted?

People like Levi Derby, who hanged himself in his grandfather's garage in Illinois on April 5, 2007. He was haunted, says his mother, Judy Casper, by an Afghan child's death. He had handed the girl a bottle of water, and when she came forward to take it, she stepped on a land mine.

When Derby returned home, he locked himself in a motel room for days. Casper saw a vacant stare in her son's eyes. A while later, Derby was called up for a tour of Iraq. He didn't want to kill again. He went AWOL and finally agreed to an "other than honorable" discharge. 
Derby was not in the VA system, and Illinois did not send in data on veteran suicides to the VA.





Update: "Joe" and family came by the house for about an hour this afternoon. It is gratifying to see how far he has come and where he is now from rock-bottom.  Sometimes you have to take the slogan, "The only easy day was yesterday" to heart and push through it -- and at other times you have to accept that you can't always do it alone. If it hadn't been for the US Navy recognizing the problem and helping at the level that they did with this one wounded warrior, he could have very likely been one of the twenty-two who commit suicide each day. There were a lot of us in his family - me included -  who pitched in and helped, but in the old days, the Navy would not have lifted a finger. I want to give them credit for changing and helping rather than flushing injured and troubled sailors out with the bilge.


10 comments:

  1. I think it would be nice if Congress "followed on."

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  2. And Obummer wanted active duty/veterans to PAY for medical care... That still chaps my ass. Thankfully 'Joe' got help in time. I hope his story can help others too!

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    1. It's easy to cast off a broken toy. That philosophy shouldn't apply to veterans that have been broken.

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  3. That is a heartbreaking statistic.
    Veterans have been exposed to things my own psyche could never handle. Honoring them for being strong individuals should go hand in hand with acknowledging the fragility of mental health. Anything less seems downright neglectful.

    I'm relieved Joe was able to get help.

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    1. The statistics are shocking to me.

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  4. I heard that statistic the other day from a VA person and meant to post about it. Something's badly wrong.

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    1. Chris Kyle learned first hand what some of the problems are that accompany PTSD in that people who want to take their own lives also are homicidal.

      The US Military deserves credit for what they are doing now with members who have been identified with serious PTSD - but there is often a delayed reaction and people are out of uniform before it's recognized.

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  5. Good to hear that Joe is doing better. I know the Navy helps those currently serving, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
    A question if you will: has PTSD always been a factor with a percentage of those serving, or is it more prevalent today with the way we raise our children and train our warriors or ?

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    Replies
    1. In WW1 we called it "shell shock". In WW2 it was combat fatigue. Now it's PTSD. There is almost nothing that can prepare people (except for exceptionally rigorous and sustained realistic training) for the reality of sustained combat. Everyone has a breaking point.

      In the Army's Q-Course for Special Forces and in Ranger School, they try to identify where that point is in the individual. In the Navy it's BUDS (but many sailors also go to Ranger School) and the subsequent year in the teams before you take the SEAL Qualification Board. Passing the courses doesn't mean that you don't have a breaking point. It means that they didn't find it.

      There are a number of elite warriors who call it quits during their career, or they shift careers. The Navy's program of deploy-train-deploy in six month cycles means that you will NEVER EVER live a normal life. Extending those to one year out and three months back during the Iraq and Afghan campaigns meant that you never had genuine "down time". The feature film "The Hurt Locker" did a good job showing that the only time that the hero was normal was when he was defusing bombs and that there was no place for him outside of combat. Forcing that sort of person to live a 'straight life' is vastly traumatic. It's been the subject of many movies - Heartbreak Ridge comes to mind too.

      The reason that I cite popular media is because it's almost a metaphor. You are no longer able to 'operate' in combat and that's the only reality that you are comfortable with. That's the opposite of "breaking" - but it's every bit as deadly to survival in a straight life and a straight job.

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