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Veterans Suicide – an Epidemic – Part I

copyright © 2008 Betsy L. Angert.

On Memorial Day, Americans honor the fallen.  Soldiers whose faces will never appear before us again are remembered for their service.  Only the few, friends and family, will recall the life of those young men and women who passed from this world into another.  

In a country grateful for the protection troops provide, people will shop on this holy day.  A President will place a wreath on the grave of an unknown soldier.  Beautiful speeches will be made in the spirit of homage.  Americans will bow their heads in respect.  Reverence will be offered, and statistics that document the effects of war will not be shared.  Yet, the numbers cry out for attention, just as the pained servicemen and women do.

  • The suicide rate of veterans is at least three times the national suicide rate.  In 2005, the suicide rate for veterans 18- to 24-years-old was three to four times higher than non-veterans.
  • About 126 veterans per week commit suicide.
  • About 154,000 veterans nationwide are homeless on any given night.  One-fourth of the homeless population is veterans.
  • There are more homeless Vietnam veterans than the number of soldiers who were killed during that war.
  • It takes at least 5.5 years, on average, to resolve a benefit claim with the Veteran's Administration.
  • More than 600,000 unresolved claims are backlogged with the Veteran's Administration.
  • Approximately 18.5 percent of service members who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq currently have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression.
  • 19.5 percent of these veterans report experiencing traumatic brain injury.
  • Roughly half of those who need treatment seek it, but only slightly more than half of those who receive treatment receive at least minimally adequate care, according to an April 2008 Rand Report.

The research reveals a sorrowful reality.  In an affluent nation, too many veterans suffer from more than a physical wound.  Yet, citizens act as though they do not care.  Undeniably, the American people offer words of support.  However, these statements are empty.  Expressions of sensitivity do not heal physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual lesions.  Congressional Bills may provide some solace, that is if they ever pass.  Fearful Americans accept what politicians proclaim, a preference to protect and defend a nation adrift.

The White House and the Pentagon said they feared that the bill would encourage men and women to leave the armed forces and enroll in college with federal aid, at a time when the military already has difficulty retaining troops to fight abroad.

Conservation of the Corps, an accretion in the Armed Forces, this is America's mission.  The United States must be prepared to defend its shores.  The conventional wisdom reminds us, war will always be with us..  Conflict will continue to exist in perpetuity.

Therefore, greenbacks must be devoted to defense.  A soldier's depression or injuries cannot be considered a priority.  Servicemen and women are trained to "suck it up," as are the American people.

The public is convinced there is no need to ponder the benefits of peace, for in their minds tranquility will never come .  Nor do we reflect on the personal  or financial costs of war.  Millions spent need not make sense.  Military might is marvelous.  Memorials are evidence that we are proud.

Many are intent; America must win the fight.  Mavericks, such as former prisoner of war and Presidential aspirant John McCain remind us.  We must remain stalwart.  Victory is at hand.  

The battle against a perceived human enemy takes precedence for a pompous public.  In the United States.  the struggle for sanity amongst those who served, while lost, is of little significance to the individuals safe in their cocooned world of wonderment.  Few Americans can count the cents spent on treatment for the troops who return to the homeland with  Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or traumatic brain injury.  In April 2008, the Rand Corporation, presented the research in a report.

The Rand study estimates the societal costs of PTSD and major depression for two years after deployment range from about $6,000 to more than $25,000 per case.  Depending whether the economic cost of suicide is included, the RAND study estimates the total society costs of the conditions for two years range from $4 billion to $6.2 billion.

The RAND study also estimates that about 320,000 service members may have experienced a traumatic brain injury during deployment — the term used to describe a range of injuries from mild concussions to severe penetrating head wounds.  Just 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for that injury.

While most civilian traumatic brain injuries are mild and do not lead to long-term impairments, the extent of impairments that service members experience and whether they require treatment is largely unknown, researchers said.  In the absence of a medical examination and prognosis, however, service members may believe that their post-deployment difficulties are due to head injuries even when they are not.

One-year estimates of the societal cost associated with treated cases of mild traumatic brain injury range up to $32,000 per case, while estimates for treated moderate to severe cases range from $268,000 to more than $408,000.  Estimates of the total one-year societal cost of the roughly 2,700 cases of traumatic brain injury identified to date range from $591 million to $910 million.

Yet, a month after these revelations were released, few Americans mourn the toll war takes on the living.  Instead, citizens "celebrate" Memorial Day.  Members of Congress muse, and mull over how to best serve those who serve us.  Yet, nothing truly changes.  Time marches on as do the memories that haunt those who were in Iraq and Afghanistan.  No one notices, or at least those in power do not rush to alter reality.  Presidential candidates posit in remembrance,

Memorial Day Draws Two Messages on Iraq
By Jeff Zeleny and Michael Falcone
The New York Times
May 26, 2008

Las Cruces, N.M. — Senator John McCain stood before hundreds of flag-waving veterans and their families on Monday and vowed not to waver in his support of the Iraq war.  “Even,” he said, “if I must stand athwart popular opinion.”

Senator Barack Obama addressed a separate audience of veterans and received vigorous applause when he declared, “As many of you know, my intention is to bring this war in Iraq to a close and to start bringing home our troops in an orderly fashion.”

If Labor Day is the traditional opener to the fall presidential race, this Memorial Day offered at least a preview into the summertime duel between Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama . . . .

As Mr. McCain spoke about the costs and sacrifices of the Iraq war at the Veterans Memorial in Albuquerque, Mr. Obama praised the patriotism of America’s soldiers before taking voters’ questions — and hearing their frustrations about Iraq and a host of other concerns  . . .

Will the Iraq war and the nation’s security once again be the chief concern to voters in the general election?  In a 20-minute speech, with the flags of all branches of the armed forces at his back, Mr. McCain made 14 references to Iraq.  Later, he invited Mr. Obama to join him on a tour of Iraq.  (Mr. Obama did not immediately say whether he would accept.)

“As long as there is a reasonable prospect for succeeding in this war,” Mr. McCain said, “then we must not choose to lose it.”

Or will economic anxieties at home and a fierce disapproval over the direction of the country be of higher concern to voters?  

If the past and the present predict the future, money will matter.  Most of the dollars doled out will go to protect and defend, not to save soldiers from the sanctity (insanity) of war.

The public barely ponders the seriousness of what combat causes or effects, that is, unless the conflict pinches the pocketbook.  Even then, on this solemn occasion, as on most others, the discussion is purely political.  People feel powerless.  Perchance that is why Americans avoid the conversation; how might we serve those who serve us.

Wars kill warriors, frequently from the inside out.  The few people who care for the troops, provide for those who sacrificed their lives and lived, those who feel the pain of loved ones lost to depression and injury, listen to the rhetoric and ponder.  If we are to truly memorialize the fallen, why not venerate veterans who suffer emotionally, just as we do the soldiers who were physically destroyed in battle.

Might we learn what history attempts to teach us.  Combat cannot create peace of mind; nor does warfare yield to global harmony.  The physical, emotional, and spiritual cost of conflict is too great.  If we are to authentically pay tribute to out troops, let us no longer engage violently.  Let us discuss the actual tax of war.  Might we show our soldiers the highest regard and adequately care for all those maimed and mutilated.  Perchance, it is time to redefine the mission and what it means to offer a memorial.

Cut Funds for Combat.  Costs are Too High . . .

David L. Giaimo 24
David L. Giaimo 24. © copyright 2008 CappyBoy

Originally posted to Bcgntn; BeThink on Wed May 28, 2008 at 12:36 PM PDT.

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