The Battle after Service: Suicide Prevention for Veterans
For many veterans, long after their service has ended, another battle begins. But this battle isn’t fought with fellow soldiers using military tactics to defeat a common enemy. This is a solitary battle, an internal battle, fought within the mind and heart—making it one of the most challenging battles a veteran can face.
There were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. In 2016, the suicide rate was 1.5 times greater for veterans than for non-veterans. According to a Department of Veterans Affairs study, 20 veterans take their own lives each day.
While suicidal thoughts can impact anyone, veterans are especially prone to suicidal ideation and action as a result of the PTS that can accompany military service. A number of factors, including extended times at war, severe combat conditions, brain trauma, and life-lasting physical injuries, contribute to the high number of veteran suicides. While this tragedy is still pervasive among veterans, there have been strides in providing resources and support for veterans struggling with suicide.
In 2007, Congress passed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (JOVSPA) of 2007. This law supported the creation of a comprehensive program to combat suicide among veterans. The law, which was named for a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who died by suicide in 2005, directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement a comprehensive suicide prevention program for veterans, which includes staff education, mental health assessments, a suicide prevention coordinator at each VA medical facility, 24-hour mental health care, and other resources and services.
One of the most effective and critical supports that veterans can have when facing suicidal thoughts is other veterans. Veteran support groups, such as the Road Home Program in Chicago, provide individualized care and navigation of services to help heal the invisible wounds of war. Peer support groups sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs also provide outlets for veterans to share their emotions with others who have had similar experiences.
Other, less traditional forms of connecting and sharing are also becoming more prevalent. StoryCorps, whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world, has an entire collection devoted to military voices. Watching and listening to these stories can help veterans feel less alone in their experiences. Additionally, Make the Connection, a website devoted to capturing and sharing stories of recovery from veterans, allows you to filter by era, branch, combat experience, and many other categories, enabling those who visit the site to find the stories and testimonials that are most relevant to them.
Because of their strong rapport and meaningful relationships with veterans, LVERs and DVOP specialists are in the unique position to observe a veteran’s demeanor and mood. If you recognize any of the following signs of suicide, you should reach out to the resources listed below. Veterans who are contemplating suicide can feel hopeless, trapped, or agitated; have persistent trouble sleeping or eating; feel rage or anger; engage in risky activities without thinking of the consequence; increase their drug or alcohol use; withdraw from family and friends; or feel like there is no reason to live.
These men and women have served our country; it’s up to the entire community to serve as part of their support system.
Resources for Veterans in Crisis:
- US Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Website: Https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/ – This website connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat, regardless of enrollment in VA care. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line now at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24/7/365.
- Mission 22: Https://www.mission22.com/about – Mission 22 is a non-profit that combats the ever-rising veteran suicide rate. Mission 22 has three main programs; veteran treatment programs, memorials, and national awareness. Mission 22 provides treatment programs to veterans for Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and other issues they might be facing.
- National Center for PTSD, Peer Support Group: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/gethelp/peer_support.asp – This resource sets up veterans with peer support groups. Peer support groups are led by veterans for veterans. Groups often meet in person, but many groups also provide online support.
If you are aware of any other resources, please share them with the community at the Making Careers Happen Community of Practice, on NVTI Student Central.