Veteran Suicide: The 22 A Day Challenge

Guest post submitted by Gonzalo Duran

veterans3n-1-webI am sure you have heard or been told that during the holiday season, suicide is more prevalent. In actuality, it is a misconception.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that December has the lowest rate during the year from their survey estimating more than 39,000 suicides per year. The Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that 22 Veterans a day commit suicide, that’s 22 a day x 365 days in a year = 8,030 Veterans a year who commit suicide after returning home.

Let’s compare those numbers to the attack on 9/11, which are 2,996 and the number of troop casualties since the war on terror began, which are 6,829. Veterans committing suicide following returning home outnumber the deaths of the very reason we started this war and the accumulated sum of 11 years, which have followed since.

What triggers or brings about the ideology of suicide? There is no one set reason, genetic code, or cause for it. I can only give you a personal experience and ones from the Veterans I serve.

Here is a scenario: imagine spending years of service jumping around the world to support your wife and kids, but only to finish your career with divorce, homelessness, unemployment, and legal issues. Any one of those dilemmas alone might be debilitating enough to effect someone’s psyche. This may be an extreme level, but it’s one that many service members face.

This particular scenario is mine.

Although I never contemplated suicide, if there was ever a time in my life where it might have come up, this would have been it. My anger at the system gave me a reason to persevere. With my current position as an Executive Officer for a Veteran Service Organization, I have met many Veterans and civilians who have shared their stories with me. To keep them anonymous, I won’t mention any particular names, but those that have shared or brought their issues to me who dealt with suicide, fought back. Many of the individuals sought medical attention, looked for counseling or persevered because they had a common trend. They chose not to go through with ending their lives because of their family. This one singular component has been a trend in my experience. What if family is not a solution or option available to you?

Here are some options that are available:

  • Veteran Affairs and Veteran Centers- The Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospitals have walk-in clinics with mental health departments. This begins with a visit to their emergency room and then they transfer to the appropriate department. The Vet Centers have walk-in intakes during their working hours; these centers are considered secondary assistance through the VA but in a more relaxed environment. If there are no Veteran Centers near you, the VA provides a Veteran Crisis Line
  • Not For Profits- There are so many great organizations that cater to this subject. Organizations that provide phone counseling, free local counseling, and other categories of methods through recreation or sports.
  • Federal, State, City, County and Town- By contacting your local government agency, they either provide a directory service of organizations or location of service in your time of need.

Recently, the Clay Hunt SAV Act has been gaining momentum. For those that don’t know about this act, Clay Hunt was a Marine Veteran who killed himself in 2011. Clay came back with issues building up but he found clarity by helping others through volunteering with various non-profit organizations. Clay was a clean-cut, handsome, energetic man with an outside image of the model Veteran. Unfortunately, his inner demons got the best of him. Since Clay’s death, his family has been pushing for this act and has gained a tremendous amount of support from legislators, which might even pass during Congress eight day session in December.

My goal for this article is to give readers a sense of clarity. Understand that if you are ever in a state of depression, seek out help before it becomes too much to handle. To those individuals that have been affected by suicide or want to help prevent suicide, I challenge you. No, I don’t want you to throw a cold bucket of ice water on yourself or fork over money. If you are able, and have the means, invite a Veteran to an event, or take the opportunity to reach out via phone or conversation. Do something outside the box by searching for a local Veteran organization and offer your services that may be beneficial to the Veterans they help. Attempt to provide an atmosphere which avoids putting a stigma on post-traumatic stress disorder, readjustment disorder, or any debilitating injury whether it is visible or not. Most importantly if you see something wrong, say something.

I truly believe that there is enough money, organizations, and awareness on Veteran mental issues, but where we lack is taking that gesture to lend a hand. So I reiterate my challenge:  22 Veterans x 31 days in December mean that 682 Veterans might commit suicide next month. A single gesture may prevent a Veteran from becoming one of those statistics.

Gonzalo Duran
Chief Executive Officer
Devil Dog USA Inc.