July 12, 2012

By Their Own Hands

Some stories just break your heart. It began with an article in USA Today about military suicides,a topic I had recently written about. The Pentagon, after years of studying the problem, finally offered up this conclusion: suicide is the only way for these men and women to stop the pain they are experiencing ... the pain caused by repeated tours of duty in protracted wars fought for unclear and unattainable goals, pain that for an unfortunate few reaches unendurable levels.

After reading that article, I did some further research and came across this stunner in The Army Times, dated July 9, 2012:
The VA reports that an average of 18 veterans a day have killed themselves. About a third of those veterans were receiving care through the Veterans Health Administration. In April, the New York Times reported that for every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans died by their own hands.
 Dear God!  For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans died by their own hands. I have trouble accepting that statistic as reality. You want to say, "Surely that can't be." And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Current estimates are that nearly a million soldiers suffer from some type of mental health problem.

The Army Times article also discusses the linkages between mental health issues and substance abuse issues, the latter putting these troubled souls more often into the criminal justice system than the mental health system. As Kim Ruocco, national director of suicide education and outreach for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, pointed out, "The abuse of alcohol or drugs should not be used against a soldier suffering from mental health problems ... Instead, it should be considered a symptom of those problems."

Here's what is frustrating to me. There are some problems money really can help with. Just the other day there was a CBS News report about the many years it takes veterans to begin receiving their disability payments, delays due to a lack of staff and modern technology. Cutting down on the suicide rate is another example where more funding would be directly beneficial. More doctors, more hospitals, more counseling, more training ... just more of whatever it takes to save these men and women. Unfortunately, that bucks the severe anti-spending, anti-government head wind that is blowing through our political system at the moment.

You hear a lot of talk about how you can't trust the government. Well, these soldiers trusted the government to do right by them ... to live up to the promise made by Abraham Lincoln "to care for him who shall have borne the battle." Think about that the next time you hear a politician going on and on about the national debt. There is more than one kind of national debt. The debt we owe to our men and women in uniform is a debt that must be paid, no matter the cost. Failure to do so renders us unworthy of the sacrifices made on our behalf.

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