The title of today's post is the motto of an organization whose goal is to end the suicides of our returning military veterans. On Memorial Day, the nation honored those who died in military service to their country. We focused on those who died as a result of combat in foreign lands, and we mourned all the loss of life on the battlefields of our nation's history.
But there is a battle here at home that is claiming an alarming number of veteran's lives, and it's time we, the American people, go to war against it. Every single day 22 veterans commit suicide here in our homeland. Let me repeat that ... every single day 22 veterans commit suicide here at home. Mission22, a website committed to bringing attention to this horrific statistic puts that number in perspective for us ... "That’s two starting football squads a day. A commercial airliner every three weeks. A 9/11 every four-and-a-half months. To put this into scale, 14 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in approximately 6,000 U.S. combat deaths. In that same period of time, [for] the next 14 years, an estimated 112,000 military men and women will die by suicide. Which means that, in some twisted way, coming home from war is more dangerous than leaving to fight in one."
We've all heard of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury), both major contributing factors to the suicide rates among veterans. And you will notice the word that is common to both conditions ... TRAUMA. Sometimes I think that we dismiss the significance of this word and what it means in conjunction with the service of our military.
The word "trauma" is defined as shock, upheaval, distress, stress, strain, pain, anguish, suffering, upset, agony, misery, sorrow, grief, heartache, heartbreak, torture; ordeal, trial, tribulation, trouble, worry, anxiety; nightmare, hell, hellishness; war-weariness. After 14 years of non-stop war, any (or all) of these emotions are the daily companions of our returning veterans. The problem is that they are invisible scars, and family members are often unaware of the depth and toll that war has taken on their loved one; and they are in the dark as to how to help.
Also, it is a deplorable fact that the Veteran's Hospitals, the Pentagon, and Congress, itself, has not seen to the physical and psychological needs of our returning vets. At a Congressional hearing last year, then commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, Admiral William McRaven described just how important it is that we win this battle for the lives of our veterans: "There is a lot of angst. There's a lot of pressure out there. My soldiers have been fighting now for 12, 13 years in hard combat. Hard combat; and anybody that has spent any time in this war has been changed by it. It's that simple... The welfare of these brave service members and their families is critical to our command’s readiness and our ability to accomplish the mission. It is also a moral imperative... It is about the readiness of my force," he said. "At the end of the day, we'll find the right weapon...But I'll tell you, if we don't have a force that's resilient, that is healthy, that can do the job, none of that equipment is going to matter."
While I appreciate Admiral McRaven's perspective and the need for a prepared military force to wage war, it is imperative that the American people now find some way to repay the sacrifice that our veterans's and their families have made for us by making sure that the hopelessness that leads to suicide is eliminated from the veteran experience.
How do we win this war on the home front? I admit that I'm at a loss; but perhaps we can start by admitting it; talking about it so the numbers don't stay in the shadow. Then demand from our elected officials that they do more than hand out medicine bottles full of anti-depressants and pills that numb the senses. We need to listen to our vets, provide them with outlets for expressing their torment, and remove the stigma of asking for help.
I applaud and promote organizations that encourage the civilian public to partner with veterans who are helping veterans. Organizations such as Stop Soldier Suicide and Real Warriors are just two of the groups attempting to make a difference. And now it is time the American public does its share of carrying the burden, by partnering with these groups and volunteering or donating money. There have been far too many of our veterans who survived the horrors of war, only to come home to face an enemy they couldn't defeat. Let's show them that we support them and care about them, and above else, that they aren't alone in this battle. They gave so much so we could live our lives well; let's do all we can to give them back their lives.
2 Corinthians 1:8 "For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself."