I was walking down Broadway last week in New York when I spotted a homeless veteran holding a sign that said, “In Desperate Need of a Miracle.” When I stopped to give him some money and ask if I could buy him something to eat, he said, “Thanks, lady. Honestly, I was thinking about jumping tonight.”
Meaning jumping off our nearby bridges. We walked to a nearby coffee shop and spoke for a bit about what it’s been like since he came back from Iraq years ago. I asked him about the shelters, any programs that could help him. He said that, quite frankly, there was so much paperwork and so many hoops that he was better off on his own. He had nowhere to call home. He was wondering why he was still alive.
I’m not telling this story to illicit some response to a charitable act. I’m the proud granddaughter of a World War II veteran and the daughter of a woman who did service for those returning from Vietnam. I just did what I thought was the right thing to do. I repeat this story to bring to light the plight of those who have served our country, and that many of them are at great risk. A recent Huffington Post article cited this chilling statistic: “In its most exhaustive examination of the issue to date, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs found that about 20 veterans died by suicide every day in 2014. That was down from 22 a day in 2010, according to preliminary figures. The complete report is slated to be released later this month. But the VA says the drop is no cause for celebration.”
And it’s not.
The article goes on to state some other damning numbers and facts, more notably that since 2001 civilian suicide has increased by 23% while veteran suicide has increased by 32%. Most at risk are vets over 50 and female vets who don’t take advantage of VA benefits. A lack of sense of belonging has been the greatest cause cited, but recently the greatest risk factors are traumatic brain injuries and concerns around mental health, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While the VA is working fastidiously toward greater advances and availability in mental health care, there is something we can do.
We can help.
If you know a veteran who seems disconnected or struggling, try to help. My veteran buddy and I discussed his return to the VA to get much-needed assistance and even the option of walking into the nearest hospital if it got to a critical point too quickly. You can listen to a veteran, connect with them, help them connect to the services they need. Have them speak to their primary care physician and/or get a referral to a mental health professional in your area. NAMI has an incredible directory of service providers and has a hotline you can call. If you’re a veteran and you need assistance, use those number above or dial the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate assistance. There is a better way. There is a brighter day coming. We all work for it every day, and with a little hope and grace, someday we will get there….together.