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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/12/2022 01:08:30

Good Morning.

Skimming my news sources this evening (last night when written), things seem pretty thin.

However, there is one story that has been close to my heart here at AAV. Veteran Suicides continue to be a vexing problem, even as our longest wars finally recede into the past. It is perhaps indicative of the woefully inadequate support system for veterans and their families after they leave the service - and of course of that over-arching "macho" mindset that soldiers never have mental health issues.

The longstanding statistic is 22 veteran suicides a day.

Every single day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s 22 suicides a day, a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as that number is, the real number may actually be higher.

The VA researchers used death records from 21 states to come up with a 2010 national estimate for veterans of all ages. As a group, veterans are old. Military service being far rarer than it was in the days of the draft, more than 91% of the nation’s 22 million veterans are at least 35 years old, and the overwhelming majority did not serve in the post-9/11 era.

About 72% of veterans are at least 50. It is not surprising, then, that the VA found that people in this age group account for 69% of veteran suicides — or more than 15 of the 22 suicides per day.

What is contributing to the 22 suicides a day number: The veteran-suicide statistics are likely to become a topic on Feb. 13 when the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs holds a hearing to explore whether veterans are “overcoming barriers to quality mental health care.”, Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit advocacy group representing more than 200,000 members, said the nation should be “outraged” by rate of veterans who are taking their own lives — nearly one per hour.

Volunteers in dark green hooded sweatshirts spread out across the National Mall on Thursday, planting 1,892 small American flags in the grass between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Each flag represented a veteran who had committed suicide since Jan. 1, a figure that amounts to 22 suicides each day.

“We’ve waited too long to take on this action,” he said. Then, mentioning the 22 suicides every day, he added, “That’s an epidemic that we cannot allow to continue, 22 suicides per day is unnacceptable.”

It was long ago now, at President Lincoln's second inaugural, that he put our obligation to care for our veterans in stark terms.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

In the ensuing 159 years, we've done a rather terrible job of living up to Lincoln's words. Many of our veteran's institutions date back to the post-war period after WWII, and many of them continue to show their age. Given the large number of veterans today, it would seem to be an easy thing for our nation as a whole to band together over. But of course, modern-day politics is king. Can we do anything? Increasingly, that answer is NO.

After nearly 20 years of funding traditional approaches, Congress recognized its efforts -- and by extension, the VA's -- were failing to prevent or slow the rate of veteran suicide. Congressman Mark Takano, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, penned an op-ed in 2019 admitting "we've failed to adequately address" this persistent crisis. Instead, our approach must be rooted in the communities that are affected most and empower them with the right tools for suicide prevention.

Thus, Congress passed the Commander John Scott Hannon Act, which included the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program. This program supports community organizations, which have closer and more frequent contact with veterans than the VA does, to bolster veteran suicide prevention outreach.

In creating the grant program, Congress' intent was to redirect resources directly into communities where veterans and their families live.

The reality is, just like the demographics of America, veterans are different, and a one-size-fits-all approach does little to stem the tide of suicide. What might work for veterans in NYC or L.A. might not work for those living in rural Texas or Arizona, and vice versa.

Creating a grant program, where community organizations already working in the mental health and suicide prevention arena can apply to the VA for a grant up to $750,000, is just the type of thinking that might work.

Once the $174 million program is fully operational, VA will financially support organizations that help identify at-risk veterans, focus on education surrounding signs someone is considering suicide, case management, peer support services, clinical services for emergency treatment, and even nontraditional and innovative approaches and treatment approved by the department.

In short, Congress and VA realized they can't combat the pandemic of suicide alone and are now leveraging a three-year program to find out if engaging veterans in their local communities, with people like them, might help. But although the program was authorized and funded in 2020, the VA only recently announced application requirements and gave local organizations less than two months to apply for this fiscal year.

Is it shoveling sand against the tide? We are long past the point where we have the political wherewithal to take bold action on this front. Like everything else in the modern era, it is highly partisan and subject to the "Us vs. Them" mentality.

We as a society must do better.

5 comments (Latest Comment: 07/12/2022 15:44:46 by Raine)
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