The problem of suicide in America, especially among veterans, is real concern today. On the average, the United States loses one veteran to suicide each 65 minutes or 22 veterans per day, according to a study by the VA. Unfortunately, these estimates are likely low, as they only include information from the 21 states willing to share their statistics and data collected between 1999 and 2011.
Soldiers are exposed to the horrors of war. They may have seen a best friend die in a battle or a child, native to the country where the war is occurring killed by a land mine. When they return home, they often come with a vacant stare in their eyes. If called back, some choose to go AWOL and receive less than honorable discharges. As the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder grows, they lose hope and see no way out of the condition, becoming another statistic of suicide in America. Some of these soldiers are not a part of the VA system and their death may not be reported.
Military Suicide In America
The mental stress of veterans with untreated disorders has caused many to become homeless. They may be involved in illicit drug use or alcoholism, as they try to numb the pain of war. If they die in this state, there may be no one to attest that the individual served in the war effort. Others may not be counted in the statistics concerning suicide in America as families may place pressure on coroners to not list their death as suicide due to the stigma of mental illness. Vets who die of overdoses or crash cars without a note may not be included in the suicide statistics either.
For many of these soldiers who honorably serve their country, the mental cost is too high. They come home and like Macbeth, feel they cannot wash the blood off their hands. The guilt of war may plague them for the rest of their lives. Night terrors make the problem even worse, as the vet is unable to find relief, even in sleep. For many, suicide in America seems the only out.
The problem is not just with veterans. In 2012, the number of active duty soldiers who committed suicide outnumbered those killed in battle. While they may not have committed suicide in America, their death, in their place of service should be added to the cost of war.
These stories of suicide in America come from an all volunteer militia. For many of these men and women, joining the particular branch of the military had been a life long dream. From their earliest memory, this has been their plan. Some join as soon as they reach age 17 and head to boot camp directly out of high school. Yet, somewhere in the time they are on active duty, these men and women with the most honorable of plans begin to develop problems. Either while on active duty or in the years that follow their discharge, they become another statistic for suicide in America.
Military psychiatrists have who have worked with soldiers and studied the problem attribute the rise in suicidal thoughts to moral injuries. They use this term to describe what happens when something is done to the soldier or the soldier must do something to another which breaks their moral certainty or their understanding of right and wrong. This damage is not attributed to fear of the task that is a natural part of serving, but to feelings of shame. The most likely cause of this feeling is the loss of the life of one of their own people. Friendly fire or the loss of life of women and children can make the symptoms even worse.
Unfortunately, it is not just the soldier who is affected. When he chooses to take his life, it affects the parents, spouse and children. The loss of life at one’s own hand may have the greatest long term effects on the offspring who are least prepared to deal with the cost of war.
Currently, both the VA and the Pentagon are looking at the problem of suicide in America that affects the troops. However, they certainly do not have all the answers. Some of the psychiatric medications often used have a side effect of increasing suicidal thoughts. The problem is likely to continue at least a decade after the troops return home. These soldiers need help and support of the military, government and family if they are to survive the damage they suffered to keep their nation safe. Stop suicide in America and get involved!