Remembering the fallen; Honoring those who served
Last year, the VA and the Department of Defense stopped disclosing suicide numbers to the public. In 2012, the last full year for which these statistics are available, there were 319 suicides among active component service members and 203 members of the reserves (73 reserve service members and 130 National Guard members), according to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner Service. In addition, 841 service members had one or more attempted suicides reported in 2012.
While the recent focus of attention has been on veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, the problem is reportedly worse among older veterans; about 70% of veterans who commit suicide are over age 50. (www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/01/veteran-suicide-rate_n_2599019.html). In 2010, about 22 veterans (of all wars) committed suicide each day.
The VA employs more than 300,000 men and women and is the second largest department in the federal government after the Pentagon. It serves more than 21 million veterans. Fixing a large bureaucracy will be challenging, but fixing the VA must be done, and done once and for all. It is not as if the VA has not been down this road before. Those old enough to remember the Vietnam War era can recall the poor condition of VA hospitals and services back then, too.
Currently the U.S. spends 57% of its discretionary budget on the Department of Defense, on waging war and on nuclear weapons programs, but spends just 5.5% of discretionary funds on veteran’s benefits. Imagine if we spent less on prosecuting wars and more to help our veterans (more, too, on health, housing, education, transportation and other services for the benefit of our whole society).
Meantime, as we mark Memorial Day by thinking of those who died on behalf of their country, let us also reach out as individuals and as local communities to those of our veterans who need our help. If you look, you will find them here among us.
[Editor’s note: The following is the crisis hotline number for veterans with PTSD and for suicide prevention: www.veteransandptsd.com/suicide-prevention.html or call 800/273-8255 and then press 1.]