We rightfully mourn the approximately 7,000 U.S. members of the armed services who have died in the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet, the death toll from more than 17 years of war is slightly less than the yearly total of suicides by active-duty service members and veterans.
Twenty veterans and active-duty military commit suicide every day in the United States. They account for one-sixth of the more than 47,000 Americans who died by suicide in 2017.
Veteran suicide rates are about 50 percent higher than rates among the general population, Keita Franklin, the national director for suicide prevention in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),said during a standing-room-only Capitol Hill briefing last month organized by the Men’s Health Network and the Congressional Men’s Health Caucus. Young service members and veterans, as well as vets 55 and older are most likely to kill themselves.
Why is this happening, and why now?
Most veterans and active-duty service members don’t seek help because they don’t want to be perceived as “broken,” hurt their careers, or believe they can solve their problems on their own, according to Dr. Adam Walsh, director of research and program evaluation for the Defense Department’s Suicide Prevention Program. In addition, many veterans are isolated, feeling that there is nowhere that they belong.
During the hearing, Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a newly elected congressman who was an Army Ranger and had served in the 82d Airborne Division, spoke of how the “warrior culture” among those who have been in combat is “a huge barrier to getting the help you need.” Many men, in general, feel that it is “unmanly” to talk about and find help for depression and other mental-health issues. As Rep. Crow emphatically said: “You are not weak to seek help.”
Because veterans have become an ever-smaller proportion of the American population, it may be that they don’t get as much social support as they did a generation or two ago. However, many of the millions of Vietnam War-era veterans were also ignored in the immediate aftermath of the conflict.