More veterans die by suicide than in combat. But it’s preventable

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For many veterans, just asking for help is very difficult. Personal responsibility is a cornerstone of military culture. Yet this philosophy of self-reliance too often prevents many veterans from seeking even basic medical or legal assistance, professional help that we all need at times.

The consequences of this situation – for veterans, their families, friends and the communities who care about them – can easily become tragic. September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and we owe it to our veterans to shine a light on a lingering epidemic.

The suicide of veterans is one of the greatest crises of our time. Since September 11, 2001, just over 30,000 veterans have committed suicide, four times the number of US servicemen killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2019, the most recent year of data available from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 6,261 veterans in the United States have committed suicide. This is a decrease of 7% from the previous year, but, on average, 17 veterans still kill themselves every day. This is a staggering number, especially when compared to the suicide rate of non-veterans. The VA reports that former servicemen have died by suicide at twice the rate of non-veterans, and that veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 have died at almost three times the rate.

Since September 11, 2001, just over 30,000 veterans have committed suicide …

There isn’t a single reason why a veteran, or anyone, thinks suicide is their only option. The veterans of this country are an extremely diverse group, depending on age, gender, level of education and socioeconomic status. However, research clearly shows a correlation between suicide and substance use disorders, untreated or undertreated mental health problems (often endured or exacerbated by their military service) and stress arising from economic challenges. , legal and relational in progress.

Research has also shown that veterans with legal problems are almost twice as likely to have serious thoughts of suicide, and are 1 1/2 times more likely to attempt it, than veterans without legal problems. This is one of the reasons why the Department of Veterans Affairs strongly encourages Legal clinics hosted by VA, where VA sites partner with legal providers, such as ours, to help resolve legal issues facing veterans.

Partnerships between organizations – medical providers and legal aid professionals, for example – are often effective in providing rapid and targeted assistance through streamlined communication and referral systems. Healthcare workers usually can’t resolve issues of housing instability, food insecurity, or childcare, but lawyers can help. Lawyers can prevent evictions, improve unsafe living conditions, and help veterans with financial problems qualify for benefits. Legal representation can also alleviate the emotional and financial consequences of painful breaks in family relationships, which are disproportionately common among veterans.

Suicide is rarely discussed in the United States, and far too often we hesitate to highlight its many complexities.

This is why legal aid organizations, such as Veterans Legal Services, regularly work with social workers and others who work directly with veterans. Our team helps them identify challenges in the lives of veterans that could be greatly improved with legal assistance, and provides them with information to put the veteran in contact with a lawyer. The goal is always to try to solve the problems that cause undue stress to the veteran.

We do not yet have complete data on the suicide rates of veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic, but we already know some things. On the one hand, gun sales increased dramatically nationwide in 2020. In Massachusetts, which has one of the lowest gun ownership rates in the country, firearms background check increased by almost 25% from each of the previous four years, to over 262,500. Why is this important? Because guns are the most common means of suicide in the United States, with just over half of all suicides occurring with guns, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. Nine out of 10 ex-servicemen in this country are male, and 70% of male veteran suicides involved a gun.

Veteran suicide is preventable. We all need to do our part to make sure our country’s veterans know that help is available and that they are not alone. Suicide is rarely discussed in the United States, and far too often we hesitate to highlight its many complexities. But we are doing our veterans, and all those who fight in silence, a disservice when we fail to talk about mental health treatment, social and economic stress, and the gap between the poetry of honoring our veterans and the prose needed to end a national tragedy. .

If you or a Veteran you know is having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day. 1-800-273-8255, text 838255, or visit https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat to connect with a veteran crisis line worker.

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