The Associated Press ran an article entitled “Army suicides reported up again at 115” on May 29, 2008. As I reviewed my April 24th post on Military Spouse Press regarding veteran suicides, I started to rethink about the significant connection between the OEF/OIF conflict and suicides. Many studies are stating that these suicide numbers could surpass the war casualties. “Suicides and ‘psychological mortality’ among US soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could exceed battlefield deaths if their mental scars are left untreated, the head of the US Institute of Mental Health warned Monday” (http://afp.google.com. This is extremely disturbing. We all know that our veterans deserve more, and we should be ashamed of ourselves.

What is presently known about veterans and mental health, one of the crucial links to increasing suicide rates, is that approximately 20 percent of soldiers returning from OIF and OEF are diagnosed with PTSD; most of them do not receive mental health services from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Consequently, many of these veterans are not properly assessed and treated for PSTD and other persistent mental health conditions, and so these debilitating illnesses persist, with dire consequences. “Since the beginning of the global war on terror, the Army has lost over 580 soldiers to suicide, an equivalent of an entire infantry battalion task force the Army stated in a suicide prevention guide to installations and units that was posted in mid-March” (The Associated Press). Subsequently, it is know that 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans currently suffer from post traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and another 320,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury, physical brain damage, according to a recent RAND study. The study stresses that untreated PTSD and TBI will have detrimental long-term costs. No kidding??

According to a Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) commentary entitled “The Truth About Veteran Suicides” (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5219, 18 veterans commit suicide every day. One thousand former soldiers receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs attempt suicide every month. And then there is the “Shhh” email that Dr. Ira Katz, the head of the VA’s Mental Health Division, forwarded to a media spokesperson advising them not to tell CBS News this very fact. Many Americans are unaware of this and other figures because it has been suggested that the Department of Veterans Affairs has denied mental health treatment to those veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

As a result of this nonsense, key members on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee immediately called for Katz’s resignation. And on May 6, 2008, Bob Filner (D-CA), Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, convened a hearing titled “The Truth About Veteran’s Suicides” and called Katz and VA Secretary James Peake to testify. (For more information, please view the press release for more information at http://veterans.house.gov/news/PRArticle.aspx?NewsID=242. What a dog and pony show this was: three hours of Dr. Katz’ languished apologies and justifications for his actions using weird statistics. I cannot believe I actually watched the entire hearing, but I have met Rep. Filner and he seems to be a stand up guy. I wanted to see what he would actually do and how he would react to this travesty.

Offered as an apology and a response to Rep. Filner’s inquiries, Dr. Katz stated: “that e-mail was in poor tone but the content was part of a dialogue about what we should do about new information.” I was happy to see that this was unsatisfactory for Filner. “We should all be angry about what has gone on here,” Filner said. “This is a matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for and I think there was criminal negligence in the way this was handled. If we do not admit, assume or know then the problem will continue and people will die. If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is.” I agree; the VA should be held accountable for these types of acts and for not reporting accurate, vital information.

Fortunately, there is current legislation being proposed. Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced Honoring Our Nation’s Obligations to Returning Warriors Act – or the HONOR Act last month. This bill will improve treatment for all service members and veterans suffering with mental injuries, better prepare them for the stress associated with combat, and increase care for military families. The HONOR Act is a big step in the right direction. Please go to (http://bond.senate.gov/public/index.cfm) or (http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/articleid/10169) for more information.

Additionally Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) has released a package of bills specifically geared towards veterans (please go to http://www.house.gov/filner/news.htm and click on the electronic newsletters link).  He has also fashioned the development and implementation of a “Heroes Homecoming” Program. “We have seen that suicide rates are rising at an alarming pace. To provide more comprehensive care and improve the transition to civilian life of our returning service members, I am advocating the creation of a “Heroes Homecoming” program that would enable service members, and their families, access to services and resources tailored to help with stress management, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other resources to help in this reintegration process” (The Hill.com). 

In addition, the Congressional Research Service published a report for the members and committees of Congress entitled “Suicide Prevention Among Veterans” on May 5, 2008. Suicide prevention is discussed in the context of VA prevention initiatives and efforts, and the report states that the “true incidence of suicide among veterans is not known.” The report can be found at http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL34471_20080505.pdf for further information.

Please let us not forget the sacrifices that our brave men and women (their spouses and their families) have made for this country. Take it upon yourself to learn more and to be informed. As a military spouse, I feel I have no choice. Remember, if you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything.

Be Sociable, Share!