I think I could vomit right now. In fact, that burning sensation may have hit my throat a few times already and I was able to swallow it back down. Why you ask? Because of the report that came out this week that in 155 days of 2012, 154 service members have died at their own hands. That is more than the number of our men and women who have died in Afghanistan this year at the hands of our enemy.
Why is this happening? Why are so many of the bravest warriors making it home alive from a war zone only to kill themselves?
We can all speculate as to why the military suicide rate is so high. And many will even point fingers. I don’t want to do either with this blog. Not because I don’t have thoughts of my own on this subject, but because what good will it do to play the blame game?
On top of us losing 154 service members to suicide this year, it is stated that we lose 16 veterans a day to suicide as well. Those are all sobering numbers. Numbers that just don’t make sense. Numbers that could be much higher if deaths including risky behavior were involved. Many of these veterans who come back and want to blow off steam, they drive fast, take chances and sometimes make poor decisions based on impulse.
I am not a veteran, so I have no clue what it’s like. I never saw war. I never saw my buddy killed in front of me. I never had to choose to kill or be killed. I never had to wonder why I am still alive and someone I know isn’t. I never had to seek shelter from mortars raining down on me. I never had to feel the pressure that if I screw up, I could kill all those with me. I never had to get my ass chewed out on a daily basis by some PT stud with stripes on his shirt that tell me he is “the big dog”. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand military suicide just a little bit.
When my wife was deployed, I found myself in a dark place. I contemplated suicide. I never got past the “things would be better if I were dead” stage, but who knows what stage people get to before they decide to actually kill themselves. It’s not like you can ask someone who killed them self if it was some long thought out plan or if it was on impulse.(and if I need to explain why you can’t ask a suicide victim that, please stop reading my blog)
I sought help. But I found the red tape. I didn’t use trigger words. But did I really need to?
What is triggering this rush of stomach acid up my esophagus and bringing up some bad memories is the fact I am currently working with a homeless veteran who is 1,300 miles away. He is 31 years old and an ex Marine. He served for (I believe) 8 years. He was part of the offensive and defensive in Fallujah, so he has seen and experienced these things I haven’t. He fought 8 years for our country, firing on people who wanted him killed as well as saving those exact same people, because that’s how humane people do it. So why in the hell is he homeless?
He doesn’t have a TBI. He has no PTSD. Well, he doesn’t have those things because he isn’t diagnosed with them, so it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them. When he got out of the military a few years ago, those things weren’t as commonly diagnosed as they are now. So instead of him getting help back then, he is trying to get it now. And we all know how backlogged the VA is. And the hoops they make ya jump through…. UGH!
Having talked with him off and on for the last couple weeks he has given me no indication he is suicidal. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry. What happens if the storage place he has his belongings in finds out AGAIN that he is sleeping in the unit? Will they kick him on the street? Will that be the final straw? What happens when he goes to his VA appointment on Monday, hoping for some real answers, only to find out that the 6 hour drive was a “take a handful of these and come back in 90 days to tell us how you are doing” type of appointment? What happens when someone suggests to him that his best option is to call the veterans assistance hotline only to explain to the receptionist what is going on who then transfers him to someone else to explain his situation who then transfers him to someone else who is either away from their desk or out of the office? Could that be what pushes him over the edge? I mean, it’s not like he has a nice air conditioned home to go home to and hook his laptop up to in order to get distracted. The dude is living in a storage unit in Florida in June. That in itself would make many consider putting a bullet through their head just to stop the sweating and mosquitoes from biting.
This guy is NOT a deadbeat addict/junkie/alcoholic. He holds down a part time job with Home Depot where he gets all the hours they can give him(20-32), he finds a way to keep up his hygiene, he is smart and he is personable. This guy is just down on his luck and he is sitting there reaching out for help, but it’s just not there. Well it is there… but you have to wait… and wait… and wait for it.
This veteran I have been speaking of is still going to the VA on Monday and we all know he won’t have his problem solved then, at that moment. He will most likely be dropped off somewhere close to his storage unit when it’s over and he will retreat to his “humble abode minus a commode” as he calls it. And there he will wait…. and wait… and wait.
We can all only hope that he is stronger than the 16 veterans a day that are taking their lives. And we can only pray that on Monday when he makes that trip to the VA, that somehow and someway he will get the resources he needs. We know they are there….. it’s a matter of having a big enough and sharp enough pair of scissors to cut through the red tape.