(Considering how many of our servicemen and women are from Colorado, if this doesn’t deserve a promo, what does? – promoted by Middle of the Road)
Suppose that you’re watching a major network news show, and they air a report about a outbreak of disease that’s killed thousands of people. It strikes across ethnic and geographical lines, and has reached epidemic proportions in a matter of a few years.
So, if the reporter told you that the media was barely covering the outbreak, would you be surprised? And if the reporter told you that the Government had been caught trying to cover up the outbreak, would you be angry? And if the reporter told you that the Government had neglected to help the victims of this disease for years, and was only starting to acknowledge there was a problem now, would you demand prosecution for those who took part in the coverup?
This has all happened – it’s not a report on “60 Minutes.” It’s what’s been happening to Combat vets with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it’s an epidemic that’s cutting down a generation of Americans.
I normally wage my war against this disease with a different audience….but something happened that makes me want to get this out here. Over the weekend, a soldier suffering both visible and invisible wounds took his life at the entrance of the same VHA facility that had just denied him care:
If this had been someone who had been denied care because of no health insurance, I’m sure it would’ve been front page news. But since it was just another crazy Iraq vet, I have yet to see any sort of coverage in the mainstream media. The vet community has passed this around our blogosphere, and the reaction is a mixture of anger and resignation. There’s no surprise that it happened – just that it doesn’t happen more often.
I’m sure that there’s someone who will say it’s “not that bad.” The numbers aren’t in the thousands, so there’s not really a problem. Let me put it in perspective – since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the US military has lost 761 soldiers in combat. But 817 military personnel have taken their lives in the same time period. Every year for the last five years military suicide rates have gone up – sometimes DOUBLED from the year before. Last year, 160 active-duty soldiers killed themselves, up from 140 in 2008 and 77 in 2003. This is an epidemic, esp when compared to the civilian suicide rate, which has stayed flat during the same time period.
And we have those numbers (grudgingly) from the Department of Defense. The VA is so overwhelmed with patients & claims that they can’t even keep up with the current pace of patients asking for help. Complete statistics only are current thru 2008, and the VA only started tracking Veterans Suicide in 2007.
And once they started, the VHA starting HIDING those statistics as best they could – except CBS News broke the story: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories…
(BTW, Ira Katz, the Deputy Chief Patient Care Services Officer of the VHA still has his job, even after he’s been caught numerous times lying about the extent of the problem. I’m trying to figure out why.)
The numbers? 18 Veterans kill themselves every day. That adds up to about 6500 veterans a year. Since then, the numbers have gotten worse – at a conference this January, VA Sec’y Shinseki estimated that of the 30,000 suicides in the US each year, 20% are veterans. You do the math.
Which takes me back to Jesse Huff….did he finally realize his soul was so wounded that he need immediate help last Saturday night, and went to the place that was supposed to provide it? Why did the VA ER turn him away – because they had no space in the inpatient PTSD clinic? (There’s only 7 in the country.) Was it because he was already taking a avalanche of meds for his conditions, and they wrongly assumed he wanted more? (All the vets I mentor complain they want off their meds, not more.) Did someone just forget where the hell they worked, and gave a typical government employee answer?
I fear that we will never know – the VHA is already declining comment, and the only thing the press has reported was how many pills he was taking. Even in death, when he tried to make a statement, his sacrifice is seeming more hollow with each press release.
We’re doing the same old shit to try and correct this problem – spend money. But nothing is going to change if the problem is invisible. America stopped caring a long time ago about what happened to the average Joe/Jane in The Suck. One quote I hear a lot from OIF/OIF vets is “The Military is at War. American is at the Mall.” And worse, we don’t really care about what happens to our vets when they somehow survive one, two, FIVE rotations in Iraq.
If 6500 people died a year from some messy, contagious disease, it’d lead on the evening news every night. Why is 6500 veterans dying by their own hands so easy to ignore?
OIF/OEF Statistics from the blogspot of Ilona Meagher, author of “Moving a Nation to Care: PTSD and America’s Returning Troops.”
TruthOut.org investigation on the Mental Heath Crisis of Returning Veterans:
The Veteran’s Administration’s Mental Health Website (which includes live chat for anyone thinking about suicide (and their family members or friends who know someone in danger)):
Time Magazine article on the US Army’s struggle with Suicide:
VetVoice.org statement on Jesse Huff’s suicide: