The latest suicide numbers for the military are out. 2012 was a critical year for soldiers taking their lives…at last count we lost 349 service members to suicide in 2012 the most ever since the DoD started recording. Every month the numbers are released to the media, every month it’s a sub-leading story in the media for a day or two. As quick as the latest numbers were released, the story was lost in the headlines of “Lance Armstrong to Confess to “Doping.” Is anyone really shocked that Lance Armstrong doped? Apparently we are because it’s the talk of twitter and the worldwide web.
Maybe I’m more sensitive to the matters of military suicide because I am part of a military family. But at the end of the day, what matters most to our families, our children, to our selves? Is it Lance Armstrong or is it helping our military members find a purpose in life after they return home so that just maybe we can save a life?
The suicide numbers for 2012 far exceed those killed in action and yet to make ourselves feel better because “it’s helplessness” that overcomes us, we turn to finding ways to rationalize our fear. Because the numbers are staggering and deeply concerning, we throw in the “civilian” suicide rate to compare to the military suicide rate. This would have relevance if say the age for this group were even closely related. The average age of suicide for military personnel is 17 – 30 with the median age 28 being hardest hit. The civilian tracking is the age group 17 – 50 and the median age is 37. When we change the perspective, it appears the national average of suicide is higher than the military suicide but this doesn’t make it easier to digest.
Of course we could look at the numbers all day long and try to predict “who is next.” All the numbers really tell us is that our military should “expect” service members are prone to suicide…not be surprised after the fact. There’s a lot of emphasis placed by the Pentagon, the VA and military leadership on PTSD, TBI and such but of the 349 suicides roughly 70% of marines, 80% of soldiers, 98% of airmen and 92% of sailors had never been in combat — at all.
Here’s what I do know – every time I hear a veteran say “my best in the military wasn’t good enough for the civilian world” my heart breaks a little more. Every time I meet organizations that are striving to connect this newest generation of veterans to a viable place of employment, a better education an opportunity to earn a living, and I hear they don’t have the funds to support the need, I cringe. How many of us gave to LiveStrong or Lance Armstrong’s other endeavors for his tours, a buck? $2? $5 - $50? How many of us bought Tiger Woods shirt from Nike or had to have the “ping” signed by Tiger?
How many of us told our children you can be like Lance (pre-dope confession), you can be the next Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, Venus Williams if you just try a little harder, focus on the sport and will yourself to be great…you can do it.
How many of us said, "You can be like that “soldier” you see in the parade or in the airport going back to base, who wears his uniform proudly…if you try really hard"?
I truly believe that communities and individuals want to help – they just don’t know how. I know the military alone can’t provide families and soldiers the mental and spiritual guidance they seek because that’s not what they’re trained to do. In the past 10 years we’ve seen the DoD and Pentagon strive to change generations of thought from “if the army wanted you to have a family they’d issue you one” to “the family matters” and quite frankly they just can’t do it alone. They’ve created and implemented training across all spectrums from financial to mental health training and yet, the numbers have increased.
Have we failed our service members? As Americans do we take for granted the all-volunteer force or do we really understand the sacrifice it takes to be a member of our armed services? We’re so quickly mesmerized by the Lance Armstrong’s of the world that when the fall from grace occurs it requires added server space to handle the news blitz, the comments, the grief, the righteousness of the actions involved and yet next month they’ll release numbers again related to military suicide. With a quick byline and a few sentences spoken by the media, this number will once again get lost in the stories that seem to matter more – will it be the continued confession of Lance or maybe the Notre Dame hoax or Kim Kardashian’s baby bump. Either way, the stories of those who died for our country are overshadowed by stories of such minor relevance; these fallen heroes go unnamed. For every suicide, there are ten people’s lives impacted and that loss will be mostly unnoticed by the American public. We owe them more than our debt of gratitude.
How can you help? The organizations below help give back a sense of purpose to the wounded warrior, veteran or their families.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), which provides military grief support programs http://www.taps.org
Wounded Warrior Project http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
Veterans Upward Bound http://www.veterans-ru.org/aboutus.htm
The Mission Continues http://missioncontinues.org/