“Thank you for your service.”
Most of the time, it’s the only thing I, or many others, can muster up when we meet a veteran home from Iraq or Afghanistan. But what do we say after that? How do we help them? How do we, as civilians who have no clue what they’ve gone through, help make their reentry into society easier? What are the next five words after “thank you for your service?”
The disturbing reality is that veterans returning from the conflicts in the Middle East are committing suicide at an alarming rate. A Department of Veteran’s Affairs study says about 20 vets of Iraq and Afghanistan commit suicide every single day. That’s more than 7,000 a year. But, why?
Obviously, we who haven’t served can’t imagine the feeling of surviving a war zone being shot at or a constant fear of roadside bombs. We can’t put ourselves in their shoes. But advocacy groups say there is a long list of reasons that lead to so many tragedies. Depression, self-blame for the failure of a mission and survivor’s guild that comes along with it are all likely culprits.
Then there are those dealing with post-traumatic stress. Those veterans can have a changed view of the world around them, leading to drug and alcohol abuse. Those with traumatic brain injuries or life-changing injuries like losing an arm or legs can cause triggers to lead a veteran to suicide.
Clearly, the VA is not doing enough or is not able to do enough. This small town account of driving vets to VA hospitals for treatment shows a window into how much those who served the country struggle to find service.
All that said, do you know the answer? I don’t.
Do you know how to help veterans? I don’t.
We need to tell our elected officials the VA needs to make veteran mental health a priority. Yes, it requires more money. I’m a fiscal conservative, but I know government exists for certain functions, and I’m convinced this is one of them.
As we think about those who served on this Veteran’s Day, we should really think about those who served. I don’t know the next five words, but for all of the veterans I meet and talk to is “I’m here for you, man.”
Patrick Pfingsten is an award-winning journalist, political consultant, and PR expert. You can find him on Twitter @pfingsten1 or email him at email@example.com.