America’s Veteran Suicide Crisis

When American soldiers go off to war, they and their families understand they could end up being seriously injured. Or even killed.

Unfortunately, it goes with the territory. These brave women and men who serve our nation in foreign lands and here at home deserve our utmost respect.

Something that is equally tragic as losing one’s life while serving in the U.S. armed services is taking one’s life after returning home. And yet that’s what is happening with our soldiers at an alarming rate.

We need to do something about this heartbreaking problem immediately. Fortunately, some individuals are already committed to doing just that.

Older Vets More at Risk

But first, let’s talk facts. In 2017, the Veterans Administration released its findings from a comprehensive analysis of veteran suicides.

The analysis involved the examination of 55 million records from 1979 to 2014. The data is being used to develop and evaluate suicide prevention groups in every state.

Among the findings are:

  • The highest veteran suicide rates are in the Western states.
  • Most suicides are in the heaviest populated areas.
  • Approximately 65 percent of veterans who commit suicide are 50 or older.
  • The risk for suicide is 22 percent higher among veterans compared to non-veterans.

Most Victims Not Under VA Care

Dr. David J. Shulkin is the VA secretary. Here’s what he says about the situation.

“These findings are deeply concerning. Which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority.

“I am committed to reducing veteran suicides through support and education. We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported (in 2016), 14 are not under VA care.

“This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.”

The 24/7 Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support is 1-800-273-8255.

New Partnerships Forming

VA officials recently announced they are forming new partnerships with at least seven states. This is to help focus attention and resources on preventing veteran suicides.

During 2018, they used a “mayor’s challenge” model to work with 27 major cities on ways to better share VA crisis sources.

As well as to train employees in suicide awareness and intervention. And coordinate existing support groups with national groups.

The VA used a similar mayoral challenge recently for a group that successfully addressed veteran homelessness.

Artist Steps Up to Plate With Sculpture

With suicide rates jumping substantially among military veterans, many people are going above and beyond to try to bring awareness to this hidden epidemic. Among them is artist Scott LoBaido.

Currently, LoBaido is working on a sculpture to expose the suicide rates among veterans. It will feature a pair of numeral 2’s facing each other (one backwards) that will form a heart between them.

The numbers will be made of hard, lightweight foam board and wood, then painted on both sides in the stars and stripes. They will be lit up with hidden spotlights.

On the circular base surrounding the numbers will be 22 pairs of empty boots. In addition, 22 life-size figures will be scattered around the sculpture.

At Least 20 Vet Suicides Per Day

Why 22? That’s how many U.S. veterans commit suicide each day, on average. The statistic comes from a 2012 Department of Veteran Affairs report.

A more recent report says the number is 20. Unfortunately though, there are many suicides that the VA never learns about.

LoBaido’s project is titled the “22-13 Traveling Art Installation.” The plan is to kick off a tour on March 7 on the way to visiting the nation’s first 13 states for seven weeks.

A document sent by LoBaido to Fox News stated that the goal was to bring the number of vet suicides down. “They sacrificed for us,” it reads, “Let us return the favor.”

It’s Our Turn

Mo veteran should have to deal with PTSD or thoughts of suicide on their own.

As a nation, we have the power to help veterans and their families get the help they need with suicide prevention.

The physical and mental health of U.S. veterans should be one of our top concerns. As LoBaido said, “They sacrificed for us.”

It’s our turn to watch out for them.

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