Looking at suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and I wanted to do a bit of a wrap up on how various groups and individuals have approached it.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, time to remind America that — It Matters. It’s about the crisis too many of our wounded warriors face. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and numerous other government and private organizations are joining together to participate in Suicide Prevention Month activities.
Call! Talk About It!
VA’s Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat. Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 or chat online to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Let’s start right there. All of us who served in combat have problems at one point or another. Every human being has problems at one point or another. It’s how we deal with those problems that define us. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it. In the military we relied on the buddy to the left and right to carry us when we needed it, to pick us up when we needed it, and to just smile or wisecrack when we needed it. Our post-military careers shouldn’t be any different.
While everyone has problems, some that we experience as servicemembers and former servicemembers are clearly unique. Not everyone goes to the office on a regular day and is ready to see his coworkers killed in a suicide attack or an ambush. The reactions we have to those situations are normal for anyone facing such things. The important thing for those facing such things is to remember they are not alone.
Last month when Ty Carter received the Medal of Honor, I was on hand for a speech he gave afterwards. He talked about the men who died around him, referring to it as “my deepest wound from combat.”
It’s both gut wrenching and inspiring to see him talk openly about his loss and that of the families. I love what he said about people with PTSD: “They are not damaged; they are simply burdened with living when others did not.”
Ranger Up spent an entire week devoted to talking about PTSD, suicide prevention and the other wounds we carry with us. You should read the entire week of posts. (CLICK HERE)
All of the pieces there are great, and should be read, but my personal favorite was from my friend Kelly Crigger (who sometimes writes for The American Legion Magazine) who talks frankly about his suicide attempt as teen:
If I had succeeded in ending my life the pain I would have caused those around me would have been devastating because suicide is incredibly selfish and runs contrary to the military ethos of selfless service. You may end your own suffering, but what you leave behind is a black hole of loss among those who care about you the most. Your family will be forced to deal with their own questions and everlasting grief. If you have living parents they will be damaged permanently. I’m a father and I don’t think I would ever be able to overcome the death of one of my kids, let alone taking their own life. I’m hyper vigilant every time we go anywhere because I would blame myself forever if something happened to them.
He goes on:
My message to anyone contemplating suicide is to simply be stronger than it. Suicide is the ultimate act of self-destruction, weakness, and selfishness. There’s nothing worse you can do to yourself and those who care about you and there’s no recovery. Everyone who has killed themself is still in the cold, hard ground where we laid them to rest. There is no second chance and no do-over. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
The American Legion has been at the forefront of looking at issues like PTSD and how that relates to suicide. In a report that came out September 11, the Legion specifically called on the Federal Government to take a more active role in researching what can be done, including the use of Hyperbaric Chambers (HBOT):
[American Legion ad hoc committee chairman and past national commander William] Detweiler said that many veterans have benefited from HBOT. "We’ve talked to these veterans, met with the physicians that used the treatment, which is available in some VA and military hospitals," he said. "It’s just a matter of what works for a particular veteran. We want DoD and VA to spend more funding to do the necessary research. If these treatments are beneficial, then they should be allowed.
"We know overall that drugs are not the answer – don’t just keep drugging the individual. More has to be done."
We’re all responsible for the men and women we served with, and it is imperative that we stay as vigilant in protecting their lives now as we did when we stood by their side armed with M4’s. All of us can do more.
Here’s an example of what one of my Facebook friends, Justin Fitch is doing, despite having a horrible disease:
I will be rucking 12 hours on November 10th, the day before Veterans' Day, around Boston with a team raising money to support Service Members and their Families in need. We will be carrying 50-60lb backpacks through the Boston Marathon route, and we will do more miles than the marathon until the 12 hours are up.
This won't be easy for me given my health conditions (I have stage 4 colon cancer), but this modest symbolic gesture is in recognition of the pain and suffering certain fellow Service Members and their Families have suffered for more than a decade of war. This will make this easy. More than 22 Veterans commit suicide a day. We want to make that number smaller.
"I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.
I ask not for an easier path, but for stronger feet.
I ask not for weaker enemies, but a stronger self."
If you want to donate to Justin’s effort, as I will next payday, go to his website (CLICK HERE). If you don’t have money, then donate your time, either by volunteering or just picking up the phone and calling the men and women you served with. Suicide is all of our problems, every one of us, whether we are facing it personally or not, because we have to always be responsible for those who stood shoulder to shoulder with us.
We owe that much to our brothers and sisters don’t we?