"Brave, disciplined, and unbroken." Those are some of the things Americans say when they think of the average service-member of the U.S Armed Forces. When service-members finished their active service requirements, they are discharged into veteran status with benefits such as universal healthcare, G.I Bill, and other incentives to help them succeed in life. Naturally you would think their lives have become better due to military service and that they are ready for the world, yet here comes the shocking part. 22 veterans per day commit suicide. That's right, TWENTY TWO per day. That's not per week, per month, or per year. If you know a veteran personally, particularly one who suffers from PTSD, then odds are you know why the general public should care about this scary statistic. For those of you that aren't aware of what veterans go through and how it affects your day to day lives, here's 22 reasons of why you should care.
1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects Veterans at a higher rate compared to regular civilians:
There's a good chance that you know someone close to you who has been affected by a traumatic event, whether it was a car accident, sexual assault, death, injury, etc. Approximately 70% of adults in America have experienced a traumatic event and close to 20% of that will develop PTSD as a result. Veterans of OEF/OIF, the Gulf War (Desert Storm), and Vietnam experience it at a staggering higher rate. 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans ( 11-20%) who served in OIF (Iraq) or OEF (Afghanistan) have PTSD in a given year. 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (12%) have PTSD in a given year, and 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD. Estimates have shown 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. As of 2014, there were 2.7 million veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. 650, 000 served in Desert Storm, and there are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans" (personnel who served anywhere during any time of the Vietnam War, such as Cambodia or Laos). This makes the usage rate of PTSD much higher among former service-members compared to civilians.
2. The Veteran Suicide Rate Continues to Rise:
A 2014 study produced by the VA shows the rate of suicide among all Veterans was 35.3 per 100,000. The age-adjusted rate of suicide among U.S. Veterans has increased by 32.2% since 2001. Since the September 11th Attacks, the United States has directly engaged itself in major combat operations. Openly in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and more discretely in nations such as Saudi Arabia, Niger, Philippines, and other countries. From this you can see a direct correlation with suicides and war, as PTSD among veterans most occurs in combat environments.
3. GI Bill Benefits aren't the Paradise of ease you envision:
While veterans do receive government ran healthcare, and educational benefits to say the least, those benefits are directly tied to and decided by lawmakers in DC, who often show little to no regard in funding these programs. This leads to poor management as administrators in the VA aren't given proper resources, pay or funding, and increased closings of VA facilities and counseling centers which are vital to combat PTSD amongst vets.
4. Fog of War:
The fog of war is the uncertainty in situational awareness during military engagements. Commander try to negate this through military intelligence, but still nothing can stop the true fog of war. Being thrown 10 feet in the air by an improvised explosive device, shot at in a forest where you can barely see your camouflaged combatant, losing your buddy in combat, or accidentally killing a non-combatant. That is the reality of war and being a part of the carnage sticks with you the rest of your life.
5. Re-Adapting to Civilian Life is the Hardest Thing to do coming out Active Service:
A service-member has just finished their four to six year commitment and they did not re-enlist and are now entering the civilian world. What's next? Integration from a war time setting to a peaceful setting is not easy. Everything in the military is always fast paced in a soundly disciplined setting. Civilian life is often a slow day by day setting. Adrenaline dies down and if a veteran has a hard time adapting to civilian, they find themselves lost through time, often bored and alone. Making sure veterans are better prepared for real world challenges during and post military should be a high priority. It is not easy being separated from your friends and family for so long, only to come home and find out everything has changed. They need us to help them adapt.
6. Feeling Alienated:
Point 6 correlated with point 5. Vets often feel like they don't belong in society. Whether it's at home because or in work, school or a social setting because the people they're around don't understand what they went through. Sometimes their own peers will call them "psycho" or "crazy" when they're having a PTSD episode. This not only further alienates a veteran but pushes them closer to feeling like they don't belong in this world. It is important to make them feel like they always have a place in our hearts. A random act of kindness always carries meaning.
7. Feeling Forgotten:
Point 7 also connects with point 5 and 6 and directly correlates with Vietnam veterans. The Vietnam War was the first truly televised and publicized war in American history, and the most costly in U.S service-member lives in American military history. Numerous atrocities took place in North and South Vietnam, and the general public witnessed chemical and jungle warfare on television. Along with the U.S draft that was implemented by Lyndon B Johnson, the Vietnamese war seemed never ending and too costly. It quickly became the most unpopular war in U.S history and American military forces were forced to pull out with a strategic defeat. Vietnam vets were the scapegoat of a military conflict four different presidents had a hand in (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon) and started due to the French losing control of their territories during the age of imperialism. So why Vietnam were Vets the target? It is easier to go after a discharged military personnel rather than risk time targeting the elitist of DC that let it happen. Vietnam Vets didn't have the benefits most veterans receive today back in the 70's and were often protested against and spit on by civilians coming back home. Even Medal of Honor recipients were abused and "spat upon as 'monsters'," according to the head of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, WWII medalist Thomas J. Kelly. Kelly recounted how about 200 anti-war protesters showed up one year to harass the Medal of Honor recipients at their annual dinner. WWII Medalist James Conners was unable to avoid a particularly obnoxious man yelling, "Killer, killer, killer." Conners decked him. John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who later became a U.S. senator, remembered how he felt shortly after returning home from the war: "There I was, a week out of the jungle, flying from San Francisco to New York. I fell asleep and woke up yelling, probably a nightmare. The other passengers moved away from me—a reaction I noticed more and more in the months ahead. The country didn't give a [care] about the guys coming back, or what they'd gone through. The feeling toward them was, 'Stay away—don't contaminate us with whatever you've brought back from Vietnam.'" This type of reaction made many veterans feel alone and isolated from the rest of American society. Vietnam vets often blamed the antiwar protesters for the cold treatment they received coming home. The biggest reason many Vietnam veterans felt anger and resentment toward the antiwar protesters was that they came from different social classes. The majority of men who served in Vietnam came from poor or working-class backgrounds. In contrast, many of the antiwar protesters were college students who came from middle- or upper-class families. Many of the deferments (official postponements of military service) granted to young men to avoid serving in Vietnam favored those who were wealthy and well-educated. Working-class men who were drafted often resented the student protesters, who used their social standing to avoid serving and then led rallies against the war from the safety of the United States. If you were to google the definition of privilege, I'm very positive you can tie it to the highly entitled and upper middle class and wealthy of America who have never had to live in the shoes of the working class vets, as the lower middle class and poor make up the majority of the United States military. Even to this day in 2017, we have seen Vietnam vets directly mocked by draft-dodgers on national television, particularly from the Commander in Chief himself, President Trump (who deferred Vietnam 5 times) against a former prisoner of war and war hero, Senator John McCain. If the top leadership of the country has no respect for veterans, you can most likely bet their supporters won't either.
8. Unconventional Warfare has Unconventional Consequences:
Since the Korean War, the United States has primary engaged enemies who do not engage U.S forces on the main battlefield, but instead do it through indirect methods. WWII was decisive because the enemy (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan) wore uniforms and met directly onto the battlefield. It was easy to point out your enemy, know their routines, columns, troop movements and methods of warfare. Since Vietnam, warfare has changed drastically. Combatants from nations that suffer harsh socioeconomic conditions realize you cannot beat a revered standing military directly on the battlefield, but you can demoralize that standing army. Demoralize means the act of reducing another's confidence and hope, or discouraging and disheartening someone's optimism, causing them to lose faith in the future. The aim is to encourage a standing army to either defect, surrender, question their orders against their superiors, or withdraw completely. The Viet Cong used unconventional warfare perfectly. America strategically withdrew from South Vietnam as the biggest political failure of the Cold War. The Viet Cong finally achieved its goal of unifying the north and south into an authoritative regime. They did this through blending in with civilians, ambushing U.S and French forces, and sending propaganda that the western world were invaders coming to change their way of lives and steal their resources. To this day, indirect and unconventional warfare has occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. There are no standing armies the United States is engaged in, but rather ideologues and terror groups. As someone who has deployed to Afghanistan, I can assure you that one man's terrorist (to us) can be considered a freedom fighter of the host country, especially when America is seen as the aggressor and occupier of in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria where we forcibly established military bases without congressional approval for war or established a solid time-frame of withdraw from the host nation. This often leads to civilians turning against a foreign occupier like America. You will see resentment, distrust and more ambushes and kidnappings of foreign contractors or troops in those countries. You can defeat and crush a standing army such as the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, but an ideologue lives on forever in unconventional warfare. Cut the head off of a terrorist in a drone strike and two more will take its place. The psychological effects of indirect warfare are uncanny. Vets come home feeling depressed for decisions in which civilians ended up as casualties and because the mission was not achieved since the enemy could not be found.
9. Hard to open up:
Have you ever been through something that made you so numb that you could not tell anyone because you feel like they wouldn't understand what you went through? That's your average veteran. Some vets take time to open up to others, as it is hard to connect what they been through overseas. Talking to their average peer who has been sheltered and lived in a bubble their entire life is difficult as it is, especially they judge a vet without knowing their plight. Much like sexual assault victims today, do not try to pry out their stories. They may or may not come through time, but prying can only make the disconnect worst and depression more severe.
10. They are us. We are them:
If you do not understand what this means by now, then the rest of this article may not be for you.
11. The longer in War, the more you'll see Suicides Spike:
The United States of America has been at war 224 years out of the 242 years it has been in inception. That is close to 93%. At what point do we say enough is enough? Being in prolonged conflicts with no end in sight just to benefit corporations, the wealthy and egotistical politicians only enhances PTSD amongst veterans who take orders to go to theaters who are hostile to countries with a history of exploitation and imperialism (Britain, France, America, Russia, and China to say the least). Since the Korean War, our government has lost its purpose and use terror groups who no longer have a capability of attacking the homeland directly to their advantage in order to keep their popularity high (administrations have favored high approvals in face of a major conflict) and donors happy (Haliburton, Lockheed, Raytheon, etc.). Until we focus on more adequate care for veterans, fixing our healthcare (which is considered the worst amongst developed nations), infrastructure, instead of focusing on neoliberalist foreign policies, the suicide rate amongst veterans will continue to rise.
12. Politicians DO NOT Care:
If Washington D.C truly wanted to help out veterans, they would've done so already. Vets are twice as likely as to be chronically homeless compared to the average American. Over a 1/3rd of the country's homeless are vets, which should shock anyone seeing how veterans only make up 5-10% of the US population at a given time. According to the VA, 70% of homeless veterans suffer from substance abuse problems and another 45% are suffering from PTSD. Over 300 thousands of veterans have been incarcerated rather than committed to mental health institutions because the U.S. justice system is failing to take mental illness into account in criminal trials. Many veterans who have been convicted did not have their mental health from duty considered into trial, even though PTSD can cause violent outburst; outburst that can be hard to control if not given proper treatment. So why aren't our veterans receiving better care? It's because in the land of the free and 'equal opportunity', it is far easier to cut funding for veterans programs to give tax breaks to the rich, continue funding controversial wars and an inflated military budget, and give foreign aid to advanced nations that either do not need it or use it to exploit conflicts. At the end of the day when our leadership makes decisions to send our loved ones to war, they go home, eat caviar, drink expensive wine and champagne, and sleep well at night, not caring about the repercussions of their actions. If Washington truly cares about the patriots who defend the constitution and the nation, it’s time to show it through action, not false pretenses to continue holding onto their seat in congress.
13. If you've been Through a Traumatic Event, you know they need your help too:
It is easier to connect with someone who has gone through something similar than you, rather than someone who isn't dis-sensitized to your struggle. If you witnessed a traumatic event that change you mentally, physically, or emotionally, you may be the first line of defense against a depressed veteran. Do not hesitate to try to connect with them, humans naturally engage with people under similar circumstances, and this wouldn't be any different. It’s the smallest outreach that can save someone.
14. Fear of Being Rejected by Society:
This is an excerpt from a 2014 article from Psychology Today"
"The researchers in the current study found that upon returning home, the core of isolation experienced by the combat veterans and ex-POWs was qualitatively different than that experienced by people who had not been through severe ongoing trauma. Rather than primarily emotional or social, the isolation these veterans felt was something the researchers characterized as Experiential Loneliness. They might have had access to deep emotional and social bonds from family and loved ones, but what they lacked—what they truly yearned for—was to feel understood. They wanted others to truly know what they went through, to feel what they felt as they struggled to reintegrate back into a civilian life. Yet the circumstances and experiences they suffered were so extraordinary, they felt it was practically impossible for anyone who had not been through such an experience themselves to be able to "get it"—to be able to know."
No veteran comes home feeling like Pompey the Great and demand a triumph and ovation for their actions. They just want to feel normal and accepted by society instead of a crazed psychopath. Even the bravest this nation has to offer has emotions as fragile as glass that can lead to suicide if compassion is not shown towards their hardships.
15. The Average Civilian doesn't understand why we serve:
Nobody comes out of high school to join the military just because they think it'll be as easy as Call of Duty, and for the few who do, they are in for a rude awakening and harsh reality. America has the highest volunteer military service in the world, which has benefited the general population because a draft has not been implemented because of the rising number of fresh recruits. Even so most do not just join to defend the constitution of go to war. If you go back to point 7, the majority of the military is made up of the working middle and lower classes, some of which could not afford to go to college (unlike Canada and Europe higher education is expensive in America), so some personnel join for collegiate educational benefits. Family tradition, where someone may need feel the need to go serve because it runs in the family or feels they would let their family down if they didn't serve. Other reasons include traveling, to enhance your resume to receive a decent wage in the civilian world, to improve yourself and learn new skills. But most of all, because we all feel the need to prove to ourselves and others that we belong in this world and have a purpose. We have all had a time in our lives when we questioned ourselves and our capabilities and we always had someone to help give us that push into believing that we belong. Vets sometimes need that push, and if you know one who needs it, be there for them. You never know when a veteran may think of you as their role model, regarding of social standing or experience.
16. Life is too short to give up:
We only have one life, and we all strive to make the best out of it before we pass away. To see our nation's heroes take away their only lives 22 times a day is just heartbreaking. They didn't give up on this country and its people, why should we give up on them?
17. We Indirectly Contribute Towards their Suffering:
All of our past and current foreign conflicts could not have happened without funding. So where does that funding come from? Oh, that's right, your tax dollars. All it takes to stop unnecessary and costly conflicts is to show this country that we had enough. Calling your congressional representative and senators and threatening to vote them out, protesting to where you're disturbing the elite's way of life, this is how you bring about change in America. No change comes easy, we saw Black Americans suffer for over 100 plus years after the Civil War until we saw the Civil Rights Act passed under the JFK administration. This was correlated with pressure from around the nation to get it passed to where the capital could not ignore it anymore. Yes America does contribute to stabilizing the world, but constant foreign meddling in places we do not belong helps destabilize the world and increases the likelihood of attacks against our forces. In our age of perpetual warfare, when do we say enough is enough, and when do we say it is time for our brave men and women to come home?
18. Profiting off of their Suffering:
The Global War on Terrorism has created controversies not just in America, but globally, particularly because hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost on all sides, yet only the elite feel the booty and gains of war. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Halliburton, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and other major companies have seen tremendous stock increases since the September 11th Attacks, yet its service-members doing all the dirty work and suffering physically, mentally, and emotionally, from the brutality of warfare. It's almost like there is a direct correlation with profits from war. It can be argued that our armed forces are being pimped out for money; money that neither you or me will ever see, but rather for the top of the top, who would never step for in a combat environment or send their families to one.
19. Heroes should never be forgotten:
"The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten." - Calvin Coolidge. 30th President, United States of America
20. Backbone of America:
This country was established by our military and has stood on top of the global stage because of our brave men and women. They need our help as much as we need theirs.
21. Our Constitution Defended by Them:
Our collective constitutional rights are upheld by the Armed Forces of America. We have them to thank for freedoms. Military personnel and veterans swore to uphold to constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic and will continue to do so because they love representing and defending their loved ones back home. Let’s show them love in return.
22. Because, they are people too:
At the end of the day, veterans are just like you and me. We all bleed red, we all have a purpose in life, and we all know how it feels to be down. We make a living by what we get, but we will always make a life by what we give. Giving them the proper support and care that they need can help stop this appalling suicide rate, but it's going to take a collective teamwork on this, all the way from the average citizen, to the top of the brass.
This time, history will be written by the victims...
Julian McBride, Forensic Anthropologist and Director. Former Corporal, United States Marine Corps