Every year, thousands of American servicemen and women are sent to serve in dangerous corners of the world. Some of these servicemembers have served multiple tours. This is a time of extreme anxiety for both the service members and for their families back home, who await the day their loved ones can return.
Unfortunately, for many of those men and women, the battles do not end when they get home.
It is a stunningly sad and alarming statistic, 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide every day - one suicide every 65 minutes. This greatly exceeds the suicide rate for non-military members.
While none of us can know what is going through the mind of a person who decides to take his or her life, many reasons are suspected for the high suicide rate among veterans. Some of these include difficulties readjusting to civilian life, inability to find suitable work and service-related injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorders.
Officials with the Veterans Administration became concerned about the increasingly high suicide rate among veterans and began tracking the issue in 2007. The VA also has since worked to provide help for troubled veterans through the agency's outreach program.
If there is any good news with these numbers, it's that for veterans who seek help, the suicide rate has dropped considerably. Unfortunately, not all veterans are getting the message. Of the 22 who commit suicide per day, only five were taking part in a VA program at the time they ended their lives.
Another troubling statistic is many of the victims are younger veterans, especially those in the 18- to 29-year-old group. VA officials believe younger veterans are more reluctant to seek help than older vets, possibly because of the perceived stigma attached to mental health issues.
This is a national tragedy. Young or old, one suicide by a veteran is one too many. These men and women volunteered to serve their country, but many experienced things no one should experience. Dredging up these memories must be painful and many find it impossible to talk to others, even family members. Unfortnuately, they also are unable to forget these experiences, no matter how hard they may try.
When veterans come home, they are offered thanks for their service. While this appreciation by the public is, we believe, sincere, most veterans are then allowed to fade into their lives. After the euphoria of their return, some vets cannot find that normal life. Many are still haunted by the demons they brought back with them.
The VA offers a valuable service that has helped many veterans with these issues. But the VA can't help if the veteran does not seek the help offered.
Help can be found. The first step could be on the web at veteranscrisisline.net, or by calling (800) 273-8255 and pressing 1. Veterans who are finding it difficult to readjust should seek help. It is within reach.