I’m a vet. I served as an active duty Mechanized Infantryman in the Army and as a Flight Operations Specialist in the Idaho National Guard. Though I served, I never saw combat time and can only begin to imagine the real struggles that combat veterans face. Each day 22 veterans and one active duty service member commit suicide. Burdened with the stigma associated with mental health issues and the military “shame” surrounding PTSD, they turn to suicide as their only option to relieve suffering. It has to stop. We need to stop sending vets home with nothing more than an ETS packet, a pat on the back and the hope that they will be able to effectively process the horrors they’ve been through.
Last weekend I had the honor of attending the First Annual Military Veterans Suicide Awareness Rally put on by The Chive Boise. The issue of veteran suicide strikes very close to home for many of us, including The Chive Boise’s Steve Exceen. He recently lost a friend, which prompted him to put together this event, to bring awareness to the severity of this issue.
I knew it was going to be an emotional day before it even started. Little did I know how quickly and deeply it would be so. I arrived early at the event to lend a hand in getting everything set. As I walked up to the registration area and set down the boxes I was carrying, I saw a woman standing by a table covered with laminated photos of veterans who have committed suicide. I introduced myself to the woman, and she told me her name was Karen. She then pointed to a picture on the table and said, “That’s my son.” In a fraction of a second the issue I was there to support went from a disconnected, nebulous idea to in-your-face, up-close-and-personal reality. I talked with her for some time, trying to genuinely understand her pain and that of her son (technically, he was her son-in-law, but he was truly as a son to her). What I found was utterly disturbing.
There are many systemic break downs that contribute to veteran suicide. They start with a military that is very adept at training people to fight their wars and very dismal at training people to deal with the aftermath of fighting their wars. We live in a society that doesn’t fully comprehend what a combat vet has been through and how the human psyche is affected by war. Families and friends are at a loss as to how to effectively relate to and help vets close to them. Hint: telling them things will be OK and that they just need to ruck up and carry on isn’t the answer. Rather than continuing to detail the systemic failures, I’m going to get to the main purpose of making this post–to do my best to get through to even vet who feels suicide is the only way to end their suffering.
Again, even as a vet, I can’t pretend to know everything you’re going through. I don’t see the things you see when you when you close your eyes. But I do know the dark side of the human condition pretty well, and I want to tell you this: there is hope for you, and there is hope that your internal struggles can be brought to a manageable point. The fact that your suffering is so substantial is the very reason I know this. I know you feel broken. But if you were truly broken, you wouldn’t even feel as though you are. The fact that you are haunted by your experiences–or are tormented by the fact that you no longer even feel haunted by your experiences–is evidence that your soul is fully in tact. The person who can go through what you’ve been through without any lasting effects is the one who is lost. Your pain and suffering aren’t signs of weakness. There is no shame in your struggles. Your pain and suffering are signs of strength. Strength of character, strength of conviction. Refusing to allow yourself to lose your humanity in the face of experiences that, by nature, rip it away from you, takes more strength than most people have. And here you are, struggling precisely because your humanity is still fully in tact. Please keep fighting. We need you. We need what you have to offer and teach us. There are people who understand. There are people who can help you make it through the darkness, people just like you who have found a way. #22TooMany is a network of veterans who have been through the struggle and want to help you through yours. If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to #22TooMany at one of the following links. They’re waiting to hear from you:
Veteran suicide is an issue we need to start effectively dealing with. It all starts with awareness. The more people who understand the depth of this issue, the more we will be able to get the word out to vets that there is real help, and the more we will be able to affect systemic solutions.