A Cost of War

[Content Note: War; self-harm.]

Shaker KatherineSpins forwarded me a difficult article about a known cost of war, about which we are refusing to have a meaningful public conversation, even in the wake of incidents like the shooting at Fort Hood. The title is effectively blunt: "At Least 22 Veterans Kill Themselves Every Day and No One Gives a Shit."
That's 1,892 former soldiers who have killed themselves since the beginning of 2014, according the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization (IAVA). But even that is a conservative number, some say, as there is no centralized system to track veteran suicides.

A recent poll found that more than half of post-9/11 veterans know at least one colleague who attempted or managed to kill themselves. For many, the list of friends lost to suicide is much longer.

Mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing returning soldiers, but a deadly combination of indifference, stigma, red tape, and government dysfunction are to blame for the sobering numbers. Citing Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) statistics, the IAVA claims that 22 ex-service members die by suicide every single day.
The thing about the public's understanding about PTSD, especially in regard to soldiers, is that there is a close association with harming others, and very little understanding about the numbers of people with PTSD who harm ourselves.

(That incomplete narrative is fueled by the narrative of the "lone crazy gunman," which seeks to attribute veteran-driven violence to PTSD whenever possible.)

PTSD isn't the only reason that veterans take their own lives. It's one of many reasons, sometimes acting in concert. And the difficulty of treating a constellation of health issues means that access to healthcare, and healthcare providers who know how to treat complex veterans' issues, is critical.

But that requires funding. Funding for which there is much less robust and widespread support than there was for sending these women and men to war in the first place.

Democratic Senator from Montana John Walsh, who is the first Iraq veteran to serve in the US Senate, introduced legislation last week in a bid to change what we're doing for veterans:
"Far too often, we're leaving our veterans to fight their toughest battles alone," Walsh said in a statement. "Returning home from combat does not erase what happened there."

His "Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act" hopes to fight the problem with large reform to veterans' access to care, including expanding special combat eligibility from five to 15 years, and repaying the medical loans of psychiatrists who sign up for long-term service with ex-soldiers.

The bill would also require the military to review its practice of handing out "bad conduct" discharges to members for behavior related to post-traumatic stress disorder — so disqualifying them from the little mental health services available to them under the VA system.
If you live in the US, you can contact your Senators here and ask them to sign on to Senator Walsh's bill. Even (and especially) if they're Republicans. Urge them to really and truly "support the troops" by helping pass this important piece of legislation.

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