The number twenty-two may not mean much to most of us. Maybe it’s the number of a favorite athlete or a lucky number played each week in the lottery. For many of our proud men and women in uniform who have returned to civilian life, twenty-two is a horrifying number. It’s the number of veterans that are taking their own life each day, according to a report published in the February 2015 edition of the Annals of Epidemiology.
This isn’t happening on some far away battlefield or another continent; these veterans are ending their lives right here in American cities and towns. The suicide rate for former armed services members has even exceeded the amount of enemy-inflicted casualties during some operational years of combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. It’s terrible to say, but in no other time in American history has the number of soldier suicides post-military service ever come close to the number of combat deaths for any given time period.
Most of the country knows all too well about the risks that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and drug-use play in the military. These are real issues and conditions that each of our uniformed men and women face when their service is complete. It doesn’t have to be combat that makes life difficult but the adjustment to civilian life, the stress of getting an education or finding employment, or even the lack of military comradery and teamwork.
A separate study completed in 2014 found that seven out of every ten veterans who ended their life were over the age of 50. The reality is that at any age veterans may be at a greater risk of taking their life. Their service and sacrifice deserve the ability to get help and treatment in an effective andtimely manner. Sadly, the revelations and scandals surrounding the Veterans’ Association in 2014 show a sad realism of veteran care in America. Things like improved healthcare, shorter waiting times at veterans’ hospitals, and ample assistance with PTSD and combat injuries need to be front and center.
Calvin Coolidge once said that a nation who forgets its heroes will soon be forgotten itself. He couldn’t be more right. Only a few decades ago, a generation of heroes came back from the horrors of war only to be ridiculed and then forgotten about by the American public. PTSD, suicide rates, and other issues associated with military service have come a long since then, from being rarely talked about and even shunned, to openly discussed and treated.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been some of the longest struggles in American history. It is difficult to say whether America’s involvement in these regions will ever officially be over as new groups continue to brutalize entire cities and populations. Studies and detailed analysis are beginning to show that now, more than ever, veterans still need our help. Our leaders and those providing suicide-prevention assistance for veterans groups, such as Veterans’ Crisis line, need to answer the call. No solider who wore a uniform for this country should be given the short end of the stick or left to fend for themselves. The memory of our very country depends on it.