According to a CNN news story on Saturday, a veteran commits suicide in this country every 65 minutes, and that amounts to more than 22 good men and women who choose to take their own life, every day.
That's a hard figure to read and even harder to absorb, especially if it hits close to home, like being a father, mother, son or daughter. And the news gets even worse, because not all the deaths that should be counted as a suicide are actually designated as such.
An unknown number of deaths, such as the death of a homeless person, or a death with no suicide note, are usually not counted, or even looked into any further. More appalling is that only 21 states list military status on their death certificates, and that cuts into the data significantly.
The Department of Defense assures the public that there is no epidemic of military suicides, despite President Barack Obama using the phrase during a speech this summer at the Disabled American Veterans Convention.
The bares bones truth of the matter is that there has been a continual rise in the number of veteran and military suicides since 1999, based on the Department of Veteran's Affairs own data. Suicide is now considered to be the leading cause of death among military personnel today.
Despite the budget cuts due to sequestration and the need for increased funding by the Department of Veterans Affairs to fuel mental health programs, it has been found that the relative amount of funding available may not be the problem.
It is the need for a more targeted program that impacts on specific mental health problems that needs to be addressed. Channeling the funds so that they are used in the most ideal context is necessary, but even this is not going to be enough.
One of the biggest issues facing the Veterans Administration today is the backlog. Plain and simple, there is a several month waiting period on medical claims for veterans and their families. That amounts to over 900,000 claims to date that have not even been processed.
But even a bureaucratic snafu resulting in a backlog of several months should not have that much of an effect on life and death considerations when it concerns one of our fighting men or women.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has a new crisis line and website with multiple avenues, including text and online chat, for those contemplating suicide to reach out and find someone to listen, and ultimately help. So far, since the lines inception, 26.000 veterans have received help.
While it is wonderful that 26,000 veterans have been helped by the crisis line, it is devastating to know that that many people were contemplating suicide, and that is very sobering. President Obama signed an executive order on August 31st authorizing the VA to hire additional staff and double the capacity of the crisis line. Let’s hope that helps.