The data was released by the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, and published yesterday by USA Today. The data covers the years 2009-2011, the latest years that data is available.
The report paints a bleak picture, at best
According to the data, 18-24 committed suicide in 2011 at a rate of nearly young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans ages 80 per 100,000. That is four times the suicide rate among non-veterans of the same age group. The non-veterans committed suicide at a rate of 20 per 100,000,
In 2009, the suicide rate for veterans 18-24 was 46.1 per 1,000, which means that the suicide rate increased by 79% in two-year span.
The suicide rate among active duty troops has made headlines recently, but the suicide rate among young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans is three times the suicide rate among active duty troops.
The Army has the highest active duty suicide rate. In 2012, the last year that data is available, active duty soldiers committed suicide in 2011 at a rate of 30 per 100,000
So no matter how you look at it, the news is bad and the report is a red flag waving in the face of every American.
What’s causing the outrageous suicide rate among young Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans? The answer to that is simple: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the signature wound of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When combat veterans are discharged from the service, their entire support system disappears. They go from being surrounded by people who know what combat is like, to being surrounded by people who don’t know a thing about combat.
They also go from being surrounded by people who know what PTSD is like, to being surrounded by people who don’t know a thing about PTSD.
The change is drastic; and the change is deadly.
The troops who return from combat with PTSD get no respect. The Department of Defense treats them like dirt and their family and friends think they are crazy.
Department of Defense
The problem starts long before discharge, because the Department of Defense still doesn’t award a medal for PTSD. The DOD awards medals for serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The DOD even awards a medal for being on active duty during wartime, even if the soldier never gets shot at.
But there is no medal to recognize that servicemen and women with PTSD have given up a significant part of their lives for their county.
The VA recognizes PTSD as a disability, and PTSD qualifies you for membership in the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). But the Department of Defense does not recognize PTSD at all.
You get awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded, whether you lose both your legs or if you have a flesh wound that leaves a scar on your thigh, but doesn’t leave you disabled. And no one should question that.
But for suffering a brain injury that disables you for life, the Department of Defense gives you nothing.
Americans can change this by contacting Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Hagel is a decorated Vietnam Veteran who served with the Army’s 9th Infantry Division in 1968. He should understand if anyone can
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Family and Friends
The family and friends of Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans have the largest impact on the lives of the veterans.
Life isn’t easy for the spouses and families of combat veterans with PTSD, and there is no doubt that Caregiver Burnout affects families of veterans with PTSD.
Veterans with PTSD do strange things, and their family and friends have to deal with it.
Often times, veterans with PTSD withdraw from friends, family, and society on a whole. Many veterans with PTSD return home with the feeling that, “Life sucks and then you die.” It’s an attitude that gets you through combat and helps you get up every morning and go put your life on the line.
Other veterans with PTSD show violent behavior such as punching holes in walls, getting into fights or; feeling rage or uncontrolled anger.
It is tough for their family and friends, and all too often their family and friends throw them under the bus, toss their hands in the air and say, “I’ve had enough.”
But that’s the worst thing you can do for veterans with PTSD. Don’t walk away, don’t leave them alone. That’s one reason the suicide rate skyrockets.
They were there for us when our country called. They put their lives on the line for all of us, and we should all be there for them in their time of need.
To help with this dire situation, the VA has published a document Suicide Prevention: Learn to Recognize the Signs and Know When to Ask for Help
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has also set up a web site for the families of veterans who have PTSD.
There is another saying that combat troop use to help them get through the day, deal with the realities of war, and cope with the military’s BS. “Smile and don’t let the bastards get you down.”
Each and every one of us can do something to change the combat veteran’s attitude from “Life sucks and then you die,” to “Smile and don’t let the bastards get you down.”
Smile and say hello. Give them a hug and a kiss. Tell them you love them, no matter what.
But don’t leave them alone in life. Don’t cast them aside like yesterday’s newspaper. Combat veterans with PTSD are human beings too, and they are doing their best.