The number of military suicides has been estimated at 22 per day or one every 65 minutes. In the United States, an average of 123 people die by their own hands every 24 hours. That means nearly 18 percent of all suicides in our country are committed by military veterans.
“Because veterans are at a higher risk than the general population, it’s important that veterans and their families understand how to recognize warning signs and where to find treatment,” said Senior Master Sergeant USAF (Ret.) Roy L. Gibson, president of the Military Benefit Foundation. “I would extend that responsibility to friends of veterans, as well. Many older veterans don’t have the level of family support or social interaction that younger vets have.”
Reluctant to get help
Because military members are trained to be tough, deal with their problems, and get back to the mission, they may hesitate to get help.
There can also be real consequences to seeking treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),” Gibson explained. “If the mental health condition warrants, a military member could lose the ability to own or carry weapons and hold a security clearance. It might affect promotability or even the ability to continue to serve.”
In 2019, a VA report estimated 14 out of 20 veterans and current service members who die from suicide every day are not in regular communication with the VA.
“That’s a significant problem,” Gibson said.”I’ve encountered suicide cases that occurred with no red flags or indication that something was wrong, even to the immediate family.”
Recognizing the signs
Generally, warning signs include changes in behavior, irritability or anger, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, depression, anxiety, and/or stress,” said Gibson, who explained that families of veterans dealing with mental illness can become victims themselves.
“In their effort to support and understand, they might crowd and alienate the veteran,” he said. “If that behavior becomes evident, I recommend using the website www.maketheconnection.net to see how other families have dealt with the problem. Consider seeking professional counsel or assistance from a Veterans Service Organization.”
There are discreet programs that can be highly effective in assisting vets and their loved ones.
Veterans Crisis Line is available to any veteran who feels at risk, and can be reached by phone at (800) 273-8255, texting 838255 or emailing [email protected]. In addition, Serve Our Willing Warriors provides wounded warriors and their extended families a rejuvenating week at one of several country retreats, while Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors focuses on family assistance after a veteran death.
“Understand the issue, and watch out for each other,” Gibson said. “Educate yourself to recognize the warning signs and know who to call when necessary.”