America’s deadliest mass shooting took place at the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017.
Days later, witnesses began giving statements on the event, many recalling several veterans who sprang into action only seconds after the chaos ensued. Stories of former service members putting themselves between civilians and the shooter, driving around the grounds collecting people and treating the severely wounded rose to the national spotlight. That tragic night is the latest example of our veterans continually contributing to our country through a quick-thinking, goal-oriented mindset. However, what happens when a veteran’s mind becomes clouded with thoughts of suicide due to experiences during their service? How can people serve those who serve their country?
According to recently released statistics by the Department of Veterans Affairs, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2014. As of 2017, an average of 20 veterans take their lives daily.
A deeper dive into the research gives us further insight into how so many service members consider suicide. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that suicide contagion is a highly influential factor in military life. Service members who experienced suicide attempts by fellow veterans in their units were more likely to attempt it themselves, triggering a domino effect and establishing the unit as a “suicidal unit.” Another statistic provided by the Rand Corporation show that less than half of therapists were able to see their active-duty patients weekly.
Plan of attack
VA Secretary David Shulkin has launched innovative initiatives to combat suicide. VA facilities began offering mental health services to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges in July and have established a new crisis line center in Topeka, Kansas, with over 100 employees on staff.
American Veterans (AMVETS) is a chartered, non-profit veteran service organization that has collaborated with the VA on several health and wellness campaigns on behalf of active-duty and retired veterans. From interactive social media conversations to visiting medical centers nationwide, AMVETS and the VA continually share an obsession with suicide awareness and prevention.
Unfortunately, of the average 20 veterans who take their lives daily, 14 do not seek help from a VA Medical Center or Vet Center, and it is not certain whether they reached out to any professional mental health program at all. This brings to light an essential component in the effort to increase suicide prevention; It is not enough to provide the resources. We need be proactive and reach out first, instead of waiting for those troubled by suicidal thoughts to come to us.
Countless veterans will spend the upcoming holiday season alone, with little to no family or friends within a reasonable distance. AMVETS calls on civilians to “be there.” Call a veteran, reach out and engage in conversation daily, and thank them for their service.
Miles Migliara, Social Media and National Publications Editor, AMVETS, [email protected]