Memorial Day: On the Difficult Subject of Veteran Suicide

Memorial Day is fast approaching, and for some, this means a three day weekend of beach parties and BBQs. For the rest, however, it is a day of remembering. According to the Veterans Association: “Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle.” It is often confused with Veterans Day, when we show gratitude to all those who served.

Memorial Day is meant to remember soldiers who have passed on, but it is also a good time to reflect on how we can prevent the loss of additional lives. While the day is challenging and emotional for many, it is especially hard for the families of those veterans who sustained injury in war, but whose wounds were not apparent. Unlike physical wounds which are hard to ignore, the mental and emotional toll of serving in high-stress environments can have serious and life-long impact on those who serve. Anxiety disorders, stress-related health issues, and PTSD are common in the veteran population.

The statistics are alarming:

• Iraq/Afghanistan: An estimated 11-20% of Vets have PTSD in a given year.
• Gulf War: Aproximately 12% out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans have PTSD in a given year.
• Vietnam War: An estimated 30% of Vietnam Veterans have had or will experience PTSD in their lifetime.

Left untreated, these illnesses may lead to suicide. In fact, a recent and well-publicized study confirmed that the suicide rate of the veteran population is more than double that of civilians.

How Can I Help?

Articles on the topic quick to point out the apparent resources available to vets, but as anyone who has dealt with the VA understands, the demand for services far exceeds availability. It can take weeks, even months, to see a specialist, and many vets find their appointments cancelled or changed when what they truly need is immediate care. There is often little to do but wait. In the meantime, recognizing suicidal behaviors is one way you can help prevent a tragedy. As always, if you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 911 for assistance.

In other situations, it can be hard to get someone to recognize and seek help in the first place. The stigma attached to mental illness makes it difficult for vets and others to reach out for professional care. Part of the aim of awareness campaigns is to get the public to recognize the serious nature of the problem If you are struggling with getting a loved one to recognize their illness, there are resources available online to help get the conversation started.

Finding work is one of the biggest hurdles for veterans. Economic difficulties and lack of employment are leading causes of suicide in the mainstream population, and are a major factor among veterans as well. Furthermore, having a stable job and income can help ease transition back into civilian life. While almost all communities maintain job boards or other employment services, veterans may need to look outside traditional career options as their experiences and skills are not always mainstream.

Wise employers recognize the value of military experience. One resource is Veteran Recruiting, which maintains a list of military friendly employers in all fields. Additionally, as a community-focused company, Aftermath Services LLC proudly hires veterans. Check out our job board for details.

As a family member, the best thing you can do to support a loved one who is coping with PTSD or other mental illness is to understand the affliction and promote healing and awareness. Online education is available through the National Center for PTSD website, as well as other organizations. This particular resource is open to anyone affected by the condition (not just veterans), and contains information pertaining to coping with the illness, including articles and links to further assistance.

Veteran’s families who are looking for support can also call their local VA or Coaching Into Care at 1-888-823-7458.

If a Suicide Happens…

If the unthinkable does happen, there are many resources available to help your family cope with the loss emotionally, financially, and otherwise. One step toward recovery may be cleaning up your home. Aftermath Services recognizes that this isn’t always an easy task. The physical and emotional burden it represents can be too much for many families to bear. That is why we provide compassionate and dedicated suicide cleanup assistance to families in crisis. Let us help lift the burden of a complicated or distressing cleaning.

For questions, or to schedule a service, please call Aftermath at 877-872-4339. We are available 24/7 to take your call.

If you are a veteran in crisis or need someone to talk to, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.