Debbie Denbrook/Photo Illustration
Veterans Suicide Awareness: Protecting the ones who protected us
November 2, 2016
November 11th marks the month for Veterans Day, where veterans and families remember the sacrifices made on our behalf. However, there are some vets who never stopped making sacrifices.
Around this Veterans Day, civilians and military alike must take measures in reducing Veteran suicide rates.
Studies conducted by the Veterans Affairs (VA) Suicide Prevention Program suggest that 22 veterans a day die from self-harm. While 18% of veterans make up the total amount of suicide rates among adults, when only 8.5% of the population is veterans. That makes veteran suicide a much larger epidemic.
However, there are programs in place that help at-risk veterans. One program specifically is the National Alliance to End Veterans Suicide, whose purpose lies simply in their name. President Tony Dayton summarizes the program’s intent to raise awareness and ultimately eliminate suicide.
“We get 18 veterans a day on average. 3-4 years ago, Veterans suicide was almost unheard of. Now we have the awareness, so we need to start eliminating the problem.”
Dayton started working on the program after he got shot in the stomach during his Iraq tour in 2005. “I hit a low during my tour and I slowly regained myself through this program.” For many soldiers, this was the same case.
The NA2EVS works on many different projects including varying workshops on job search, networking, advocacating for benefits, and recommending different psychiatric programs including the Veterans Crisis line and the VA hospital.
One sub-program that Dayton has been working on has been “Operation Veteran Freedom,” a program that he describes as “looking at life through a different set of glasses.” By providing veterans a new perspective on life (whether it be positive or negative), assisting them in assimilating into civilian life, making it easier for them to transition.
This organization has approximately 10-20 volunteers in the Pierce County area, all organizing events like the Veterans Day Parade, Blankets for Hope, and Feast of Valor—a dinner prepared by the Washington high school JROTC to serve for homeless veterans.
For many veterans, it is hard to seek the help they need. “In the military, there is a culture of toughness, so it is harder for them to get help,” says temporary Fort Steilacoom counselor Liz Scott. Many veterans feel like their voice is not heard and can’t relate with a civilian counselor, or they simply can’t find the right one.
“There’s a certain language that exists between soldiers. Sometimes it is hard to communicate what you are feeling to a civilian when they have not gone through the same thing,” said Tony Dayton.
Sometimes the veterans want help, but don’t know where to find it. For VA coordinator Vicki Bell, there is no guarantee that every veteran who comes to her has the right resources. “Sometimes I feel dread because I don’t know if they [veterans] are getting the help they need.”
However, there is hope. Through the American Lake VA hospital and through Pierce’s VA, students can get recommended to programs like Giveanhour.org, after deployment resources (under the Pierce’s counseling page), Veterans Crisis line, and many other programs like NA2EVS. “Through a veteran’s perspective, there are no resources. They simply are not advertised enough and a veteran may not know what is out there,” says NA2EVS coordinator, Rod Wittmier.
For many veterans, opposition to counseling or therapy—or merely seeking help—remains to be a strong obstacle. It creates the stigma of looking vulnerable or “weak” and can worsen the situation even more. That’s why Vicki Bell and Liz Scott both recommend “alternative” therapies like rock-climbing, hiking, yoga or even joining in communal efforts like a biker gang or community service (or both), as healthy therapy treatment.
These activities could be much less invasive compared to intensive therapy and it relieves some of the anxiety that veterans have towards traditional counseling (although that is still recommended).
“To help veterans who may be at risk for suicide, just let them know that there is a future for them. Whether that be fixing a car or computer, let them know that they are needed and they are loved,” says Rod Wittmier.
If any veteran is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts or knows someone who is, please call the Veterans Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.