Words by Wes O'Donnell.
Veteran suicide rates are at an astonishing high with approximately 22 veterans committing suicide every day. These statistics have veterans groups begging for assistance in creating more programs and facilities to help veterans at risk, stating that these deaths are both devastating and preventable.
Last week in Washington DC the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America was part of an annual live being event. Their goal is to have officials put through a new executive order that would create a government position responsible for heading up suicide prevention efforts and conducting nationwide research into this problem.
One of their own members Kristofer Goldsmith was among 31 veterans to participate in this lobbying event. Six years ago when Goldsmith was an Army soldier he attempted to commit suicide and instead of receiving the help he so desperately needed he was kicked out of the military for misconduct. Goldsmith, a 28-year-old Iraq War veteran, is participating in this effort because he does not want to see any other soldiers experience what he had to go through, hoping that his story will make a difference.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's chief policy officer Tom Tarantino states that he is aware there is a lot of effort out there in this area, however, the problem is there is no organization or information on what is working and what is not. The group is pushing for officials to clean up existing mental health programs and resources as well as create a program along with a lead person in charge of evaluating these efforts to determine which are having the most successful outcomes and which need to have modifications made to them to achieve greater success.
Another requested made is that lawmakers keep this issue in the public’s eye. If it can be understood by more of the population it will lose its stigma that often prevents veterans from seeking out the help they need.
In Goldsmith’s case, after returning from Iraq in 2005 his PTSD was apparent to everyone except himself. He was aware that something in his life was different but he had figured it was just the world around him that had changed. After experiencing two years of strife and struggle he turned to his army commanders for help and was answered with group therapy sessions that only added to his discouragement. Upon receiving orders for a second tour of duty in Iraq, he felt he finally had enough and attempted to take his own life. This action resulted in his general discharge for misconduct from the Army. He finally begin to overcome his depression and PTSD after going through a VA mental health specialist to receive care.
It is important that both officials and the public take these veteran’s cries for help more serious. The help that is currently available can at times be extremely difficult and frustrating to obtain. Statistics show that those veterans who do receive medical help and psychological assistance are less likely to commit suicide. Programs just need to be made more easily accessible and more accepted by society as a whole. It is the hopes of these veterans groups that lawmakers will make the push to increase awareness and improve the system put in place that offers veterans the assistance they need and have earned.