Military Suicides and Election 2012

The Boots Before You bringing awareness to military issues - suicide, PTSD, reintegration, all issues facing communities.

Military Suicides and Election 2012

This election season has provided many opportunities for comedians to share the biggest one liners supplied via our candidates. We had 15 debates between the republican candidates and our candidates for President. We heard them blather about the economy, our fiscal crisis, binders of women and the illustrious 47% comment. What we didn’t hear them touch on is the soldier; the cost of war borne by the less than one percent and what their promise is to make them whole again when they come home. As a military spouse and advocate, this is not just sad; it’s disturbing that we can’t get a national discussion started on the effects of war. Eleven years into the endless cycle of deployment we’re losing more soldiers to suicide than on the battlefield and not one candidate talked about it this election season. Sadly another local National Guard soldier took his life this past month. The weekend before he died he participated in Stand Down the Army’s 24 hour servicewide day of mandatory training aimed at combating record numbers of suicides among active-duty troops.  He received counseling, a follow-up plan was in place and before he left to go back to school he had dinner with his parents. They too thought he was doing better.

I’ve heard military families are the new “marketing niche” of the decade. At first one thinks great, someone wants to help us. But after pealing away the pitch, I had to ask, exactly how do military families access this support? Are we to “shop” military support and throw it into our checkout cart and purchase it online?

As a non-profit owner assisting military families there are a ton of organizations trying to buy their market share of the military niche. I’m in contact with them daily and I have yet to have one organization ask simply, “what can we do to bridge the gap between civilians and military?”  And by the way, as quick as they appear wanting to help, they’re gone. If it’s not the anniversary of 911, Veterans Day, Memorial Day or Labor Day (which isn’t even a military observance) they seldom ask “what can we do for you?”

To compound the need for assistance, military families rarely ask for help.  By the time we figure out we need help, we’re so lost in the abyss of information provided by well meaning military support organizations that the moment to act has come and gone and 911 is our only option. 911 may be a close friend, mental health hotlines or medical support but it’s rarely Target or Walmart and it definitely isn’t the internet shopping cart.

Eleven years into war and a soldier “THINKS” of committing suicide every 36 hours. A soldier “ENDS” their life every 80 hours. The average age today of the soldier killing themselves is 18 – 34 and they have yet to deploy. More alarming is our female vets are three times as likely to commit suicide as their civilian peer. It’s not just the soldier who is in need of support; it’s the spouse who also suffers from PTSD and the fear and sacrifice of deployment ignites their symptoms; or the child with special needs who must now adapt to life without a parent. It’s the high school senior who has moved to five different schools since middle school and now faces the possibility that they won’t have the credit necessary to graduate because their state didn’t sign the Inter-State Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children.

It’s no longer “okay” for our elected officials and the public at large to skim over the issues facing our military. Our defense budget is two percent of GDP and has grown by nine percent yearly since 2001, yet our domestic budget has decreased steadily for that same timeframe. It will take two decades for Medicare and social security to reach two percent of GDP. Yet that’s what our candidates are talking about. As a society we can not continue to burden the VA without accepting responsibility and providing care for our soldiers and their families. It’s not enough to say “I’m sorry” or “thank you” anymore. The time is now for action.

President Eisenhower warned the American people in his farewell speech about the harm of the over funded military complex and the lack of balance that leads to a society’s inability to provide the basic programs for its free people. As feared, the words of Eisenhower have fallen on deaf ears and America will soon face what caused anxiety in Eisenhower – “that the power and greed of the military complex overshadows our place on this earth as a free people, a public that is now overwhelmed by political manipulation, not compromise; the power of a few have been paid for by the needs of the many and that democracy for the next generation is slowly becoming the “insolvent phantom of tomorrow.”

As relieved as we all are that this ugly election season is behind us, what it continues to unveil however, is there has been no serious discussion about the wars, the impact it has had on the less than one percent and their families that eleven years and trillions of dollars later has supplied no resemblance to peace. 

America we need your help. During a recent conference call I listened to the marketing executive ask for ways to help gain the military market share and while I typically just listen – this time I decided to answer his question with a non-tangible. I started by stating what we truly need is advocacy, commitment and lastly a chance for a successful return to the civilian world. I’m not sure how his marketing plan plays into our need but here are some suggestions:

  1. Military families need corporations, civic and religious organizations to be educated on the needs of their employees who are serving, have served or are family members of those serving. Robust connections through their Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) for individuals dealing with PTSD, TBI, family issues arising from deployment and service would be a first step. The only way for our society to combat suicide or those in need is to educate ourselves on the signs, the behavior and lastly how to reach out and connect with that individual who is hurting. Seminars open to employee populations on Suicide Prevention and Awareness would not only help educate all but show those in need that they are not alone, that their employer cares and that someone has their “back”.
  2. Civilian medical professionals educated on the signs of PTSD, particularly in women who may experience atypical symptoms compared to their male counterpart. Just by adding an optional line to their registration forms asking if they belong to a military family can provide insight into a soldier or family member’s symptoms.  It’s a starting place and military are more likely to access civilian medical professionals over military medical assistance for fear of risking their careers.
  3.  Day care programs, pre-tax incentives or even educational savings programs to support day care programs. The spouse who now finds that they must return to work because their soldier is no longer able to work is caught between the needs of their child and their employer and day care is at the heart of the matter.
  4. Staffing personnel and community volunteers specifically recruiting our soldiers and spouses who have been discharged from the military; assistance in writing resumes – translating their military education into life skills that are marketable. The veteran generation of WWII was the stepping stone of innovation in 1945; today’s generation of heroes is Americas next great generation to introduce the “ideas” that will change the world. We can’t let that opportunity slip away from them or from us as a country.
  5. Volunteer Hours approved for projects to participate in military events, family days, or physically assist military families with household chores, home maintenance and other hardships that may impact a military family.
  6. School and civic leaders making the military family as important in their altruism campaigns as Relay for Life, Ron Santos Juvenile Diabetes walks, breast cancer and the list goes on. It can be as simple as a Wall of Heroes started at schools, businesses and local civic groups. A lasting and continued tribute to those who give it all.

None of the above fit into an online grocery cart but the marketing power of corporations and civic minded organizations that can leverage the above needs of the military family will be rewarded with the most committed, hard working and skilled workforce seen yet in this century.

There is no doubt that America and its citizens are forever indebted to our military. If we want to pay tribute to the fallen, it’s not in a moment of silence or tears; it’s in honoring their commitment matched only by giving back to those who have given the most. We are not a marketing “niche” we are people who’ve been called to honor the oath in serving this great nation. 

Veteran’s Day is past, and while the soldier’s commitment continues forward, its time for America to start having the conversation on how to heal our veterans…today.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

J.Lyn November 18, 2012 at 04:21 PM
Sandra...Thank you. You are correct. I was speed reading and read it wrong. Comprehension is important...this time I missed the boat. That being said...it is also the writers responsibility to clearly and concisely state their premise. Unfortunately, Danette could have phrased several sentences with more precision. One can tell she is very emotional about the cause...and sometimes that has an impact on writing skill. And...you are right about another thing. Abigail is a professional victim. She too is emotional about her cause...but the result is far worse than errors in writing skill. Her's is an error in comprehension of reality.
Danette Hayes November 18, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Dan - again my statement about the 1% is because that's the percentage of people who serve in the military - 1% of our population. I'm not sure the media is "disguising" the issues impacting the military and their families and you chide me on referencing politics when you ask if January 2009 is when it all changed. Here's the deal - our society as a whole has trouble discussing mental illness. Add into the mix, mental illness impacting our military due to deployments etc and the silence is more astounding. However, not all military suicides are due to combat. Right now the largest percentage of military killing themselves haven't even deployed yet. They are 17 - 21 year olds who because of service, being away from home or broken relationships can't find the will to carry through. That's not just an issue impacting military families, it's an issue impacting society as a whole. When 14 year olds are being bullied to death, that's societies issue. The next big group are family members of military. I care about this issue because I've lost friends to suicide, good service members and focusing on the media and when they stopped reporting deaths daily isn't going to solve the issue.
Erica Williams November 19, 2012 at 12:16 AM
Danette - You have experienced military life for many years. You know what you are talking about. You all should be ashamed of yourselves. You're arguing about suicide with a well respected woman.
John L November 19, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Dannette, A few questions for you, since you know more about this than we do. How does the military rate of suicide compare to the civilian rate of that same age group (18-34)? Also, you mentioned that there is a high rate of suicide even among those who do not deploy? Do you know what causes that?
Brian L. November 19, 2012 at 05:42 AM
This is a big problem...when people say they stop reading because they feel a bias against them or their politics. Even if that were the case, isn't it a good idea to read/listen to someone with an opposing view? See what their take is on an issue? This article clearly isn't pandering left or right. Danette is opening our eyes to a major issue here in our country concerning the people who risk their lives for us. If she makes statements that sound liberal, so be it. Fox news panders to the right, that doesn't mean they don't report pertinent news and issues as well. And Abigail, she (Danette) is referring to this election cycle...as she says in her opening line. Don't try to fuel the political debate. She also uses the binders and 47% to draw more attention to the fact that all of those things were fodder for comedians to shift our focus away from real issues. Don't read the article looking for reasons to fight...read it to hear her message about our soldiers killing themselves and what we need to do to help.
Procrustes' Foil November 19, 2012 at 10:55 AM
Erica, I share your opinion. The vitriol heaped upon Danette is appalling. Her article was meant to inform us about the grave difficulties facing returning military personnel - many of whom have been deployed several times. The Washington Monthly and The Atlantic have reported on these problems. These petty critics should be ashamed of themselves.
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Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 01:07 PM
John L - Great questions. According to the DoD this week the Army surprassed their suicide numbers for last year already. From their report "During the first nine months of 2012, there were 247 suspected suicides among Army active- and reserve-duty personnel, compared to 222 military deaths among active and reserve personnel from “hostile causes” as of Sept. 28". Unfortunately only the Army provides monthly totals so we're just getting a total view of 2011 as we end 2012. The national suicide rate is around 11.9 per 100,000. The military rate is 22.9 per 100,000. Nationally 38,000 people killed themselves in 2010 (AFSP statistics). Lastly, the age group that hasn't been deployed yet that is ending their lives so early - the link seems to be resiliency. A lot of these kids are experiencing life away from home for the first time, they have romantic relationships that end, fear of deployment etc...The Acting Director of the National Guard stated last winter that the trend seems to be related to resiliency. (continued)
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 01:12 PM
John (continued) - Most alarming are these statistics from the VA shared in the AFSP Policy Report 2012.. "According to the VA, veterans composed 20% of these suicides with approximately 18 veterans dying by suicide daily; five of whom were enrolled under VA care. Three of five veterans enrolled in VA care who died by suicide were patients with a known mental health condition. On a related note of equal concern is the fact that approximately 950 veterans under VA care attempted suicide each month between October 2008 and December 2010." Since each state has a different method of tracking suicide its difficult to provide exact science. But the military also must investigate each death outside of combat so it can take a few months to have confirmed numbers. Mental illness is a silent disease in our country...its time we started talking about it. There is no need for anyone, soldier, family, civilian to suffer alone.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Erica thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate your taking the time to get informed. As much as I also appreciate your support for the article, I'm okay with the negative comments in so much that it gets people talking. If nothing else - at least 5 of you read beyond the first paragraph and that's success. Politics isn't for the thin skinned and although my article wasn't mean to be political - some people will only read what they want to read - regardless if my words state otherwise. It's a sad fact of who we've become. The Army has a saying, in fact my husband reminds me quite often "Embrace the Suck." It's look forward not back and therefore, bring it on.
Gary November 19, 2012 at 04:34 PM
A serious discussion of military suicides would not have mentioned "binders full of women" at the beginning. Danette, Here's the score. Republicans just went through a couple of years where the MSM demonized, insulted, and lied about us in every way they could. We had to put up with that during the political campaign because we know the game isn't fair, but we just live with it. Well, the campaign is over. We are really pretty sick of having to take abuse while being told we're the intolerant ones who would be accepted into decent society if only we would open our hearts and minds and embrace all the people giving us crap. In short, we expect the demonization to stop for a while. ...and when we see anyone using the sound bites and catch phrases which were used as hammers against us during the election, well we just assume we know where you are coming from and shut it off. It's that simple.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Gary - It's not that simple but I'm beginning to see a pattern. If regular people don't look beyond the sound bytes provided by the 24 hour news cycle, we will continue to digress from the issues that truly matter. Case in point this paper. If the issue matters read beyond my point that seems to push your button and realize we're talking about the same thing.
Gary November 19, 2012 at 05:26 PM
You don't seem to be getting the message. We are not talking about anything at all because I will not be reading beyond the cheap shots at the beginning of your article. Let's try this. You need to be considerate to all your potential readers and be sensitive to the kinds of things they might find offensive. You need to understand that everyone doesn't think like you, and you need to reach out to those people in order to bring them into your big tent so we can talk about issues that effect us all. Offending people simply drives them away and they'll never vote for you... oops... read your articles again if you don't give them something... oops... show them that you understand their concerns. In fact, the more obnoxious and intransigent your opponent, like me right now, the more you should feel obligated to show me how much you like me, or I will call you names and go read other articles. In fact, in the future you will not be judged by your words or actions. You will be judged by the lies I tell about you, and you will be assumed guilty of every accusation I throw at you, and any response by you will be further proof of your guilt. Those are the rules right now. If you don't like this system, then feel free to change it. I tried and failed. That's what we're talking about. Leave out the cheap shots next time.
Erica Williams November 19, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Gary - OMG. You and only you want to set up the "rules" and squash Danette right to free speech. You are entitled to your opinion as well as Danette is to hers.
Gary November 19, 2012 at 06:00 PM
No. I'm just trying to let her know that some of us are little edgy right now on the political stuff by using some political satire of my own. I guess you didn't get that part of it. Carry on.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Gary - is this a game to you? You can junk up the internet blasting my paper all you want - but there is no game here on my part. I did not offend anyone, if you're offended by my sharing the obvious about the blindness of the people on the issues that really matter and don't see that my mockery of the fodder is your same outrage then move on. I am moving on. And the beauty of the ability to move on means you're alive, you get the chance to move on. As an advocate for military families and as military spouse I don't get the luxury to sit and worry about political parties. If 50% of the American public can't take on the issue of military suicide, PTSD, TBI, homelessness, unemployment because their feelings are hurt by my statement of the obvious then chances are they aren't interested to begin with. And if they do care or are interested, then they'll find a way to move beyond their politics and work towards something that is good, gives back and doesn't care who you voted for! And lastly, I'm not running for office so once again if this is a game to you...I'm not playing.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Dan - we're losing more soldiers to SUICIDE right now than we are in combat therefore the good news is the running total isn't needed. Suicide can't be confirmed right away and when it is, the news is reporting it. I'm not sure what you're reading or seeing to the contrary and I can't say why it feels like less coverage to you. Eleven year of war and the American public seems to have moved on. That's why we're trying to "Shine the Light" on our soldiers, give a face to the names of our neighbors and tell their story. You're right, our service members need to know they are appreciated, and taking the time to say Thank You goes a long way. But that's just the tip of the iceburg so to speak. Sending them off to war at times can be the easiest part of the journey, it's bringing them home and helping them find their way back into civilian life is what's causing the problem. I'm not sure how the media can help that cause except to help military organizations share their stories.
june shellene November 19, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Danette, Thank you for your blog. Did you ever listen to Ron Paul's speeches? He is the only one who pointed the finger at the military industrial complex and the destruction it has caused to thousands of Americans. His campaign contributions from the military outpaced all the republican presidential candidates and Obama's put together. Thousands of young people showed up at campuses all over the country, where Romney would attract only a few hundred. His farewell speech to congress has garnered more attention than most presidents' farewell speeches. I guess now that he's gone, it's safe for the media to pay attention to what he has to say. I recommend every American listen to his farewell speech. Sad to say, the military industrial complex rules us all and he never had a chance...as the complex also rules the media, who continually dismissed him as too "radical," and never covered his stunning turn outs during his campaign. He was the only man willing to stand up to the insanity of our addiction to war and our communal willingness to sacrifice our young, our brave, our disciplined people, and to wreak havoc and murder on innocent people globally. But the media and his own party turned their backs on him, brain dead liberals and conservatives alike wouldn't listen to what he had to say. This fact alone tells me that we as a nation, as a people, are doomed.
Gary November 19, 2012 at 08:07 PM
Danette, Dan is trying to tell you that someone else is playing political games with this issue, and unlike me they are playing for real, and the consequences are disastrous. Why did the media stop covering the wars in January 2009? Why did they report the "body count" up until January 2009? Why did they demonize our soldiers up until then? Why did anti-war protests stop in January 2009? Part of the problem lies in the answers to those questions.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Dan - Cindy Sheehan has been running for political office...that's why she isn't on the news anymore. She's not the activist she once was, in fact she ran as Vice President in the Peace and Freedom party with Roseanne Barr as the Presidential nomination.
Abigail November 19, 2012 at 09:50 PM
Thank you Dan and Gary for your comments. You put into words what I was unable to get across.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Dan, Gary and Abigail - the article is about military suicides. Gary there's no need to keep commenting if you don't want to read the article and discuss the points I make in the rest of the story. Abigail you're free to post and comment but this article is about military suicides. The two of you stated you didn't read beyond the first paragraph - therefore if you're not going to comment on the topic - military suicides move on. Everyone but the three of you seem to understand that. If you want to discuss ruffled feathers, political correctness or such perhaps you should start your own blog. This blog is about issues impacting the military.
Danette Hayes November 19, 2012 at 11:26 PM
June - I have listened to Ron Paul and he states some very accurate facts. I think Eisenhower was also wise to the ways of the military complex. This blog however isn't supposed to be political. I welcome your comments or Ron Paul's on suicide. Since he's a doctor he probably adds a lot of value to the conversation. Thanks for posting.
Danette Hayes November 20, 2012 at 04:13 PM
dan - I've responded to your posts. And this is a blog - under Local Voices. I've responded to each contrary opinion with a post but there is no data to support your assertion that suicides are on the increase because of the media not giving constant coverage to the war. Out of the 950 veterans who received care from the VA for their depression, suicidal thoughts, did not mention the media. Now if you are asserting that the media isn't providing enough attention to Military Suicides then that's the point of the paper I've written that you disagree with. So I'm not sure how much longer to swim in this fish bowl with you until one of us needs to come up for air. I can't wait for the media to get more involved in highlighting the epidemic of military suicide - however, it's not a cure. As a veteran you know how much Thank You means to most...but for the service member who is on the verge of committing suicide, Thank You isn't enough. If you'd like to discuss how the media can get more involved - great, let's start there. Current state is according to you, they're not reporting on the war effort anymore. What is the desired state you wish to achieve by getting the media more involved? I look forward to your comments.
John L November 20, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Danette: I would agree with Dan, at least partially, concerning the media issue. I know your focus is on the suicides, though your initial post covered a number of issues. I would bet that there is more than one cause for the rise in suicides, and the lack of general involvement and support for the military is one of them. I doubt that you are going to find corporate support for just the suicide issue alone. But if you can raise awareness for the plight of military personel in general, suicides can then be part of the band wagon. To get support, you need an emotional response. Patriotism is a powerfull positive emotional response, and will raise more support than the negative and depressing issue of suicide. Corporations will jump on the band wagon of patriotism. That band wagon can garner financial support, as well as give emotional support to those potential suicide victims, that feel "disconnected" and abandoned by the American people. Get the media involved again, and the band wagon becomes a steam roller, that will attract the media and corporate support both. Raise back up the issue of support for the military, and then that positive emotion will then include compassion for those who are suffering.
John L November 20, 2012 at 05:28 PM
Dan: You said: "The media is not sharing any more stories of soldiers and sacrifice and deaths by roadside bombs, etc. The media doesn't feel that these stories are helping the people they want to help, so they avoid them." I agree in part. There used to be pictures and bio's of each soldier killed, now there is barely a mention of "3 soldiers killed today". I disagree that the media is avoiding those stories because they don't feel they are helping anyone. They are avoiding the stories because they have become old subject matter (not my feeling, just reality), and do not raise the sensationalism reaction any more. If the media was all about helping people, a story about an affair with a general would not garner 10 times the coverage of the last 100 military killed overseas or the fact that the military suicide rate is double the civilian suicide rate (thank you Danette for that info). If we, as the public, show that we are interested in that subject matter (plight of the military, rather than scandal), then the more important media covereage will return, since the bottom line for the media is about ratings. Obviously, those people in this discussion ARE interested interested in the more important issue. We have to find a way to get our friends and neighbors involved again, and the media will follow the audience.
Danette Hayes November 20, 2012 at 07:48 PM
John I agree that the media isn't helping to build support for the issues impacting military suicides, families, homelessness etc. Involving the media in raising awareness is tantamount to helping grow the support - that's a given. I guess where I'm lost with Dan is in suggesting the lack of media attention is leading to the rise in suicides. I can't find anything to support that assertion. We all agree that involving the media is important - hence this blog. The Boots Before you wants to recognize every soldiers and families story - and in sharing their story whether its positive, helpful concerning how they handled financial distress, unemployment, first deployment etc we will use the media to grow that support. Yes positive emotions such as Patriotism are a great way to get everyone involved...as a veteran Dan has a mountain of stories to share. But we also have to find common ground because there are so many similarities between civilian issues and military issues. The double edged sword with the media is to your point - if it doesn't ride to the sensationalism of the affair now consuming the media, how do we garner that level of interest. Clearly the fact the suicide rate for military is rising, already surpassing last years isn't getting the attention.
Carl Castrogiovanni November 21, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Sandra, I read the whole thing, and it was indeed a partisan screed. That kind of writing won't help anyone's cause...
Carl Castrogiovanni November 21, 2012 at 08:02 PM
"Her article was meant to inform us about the grave difficulties facing returning military personnel " She failed at that goal by taking the pasrtisan tack that she did...
Danette Hayes November 22, 2012 at 12:02 AM
Carl - anyone's cause...? Shouldn't it be everyone's cause? Military suicides are not just the problem for the families they leave behind. When 91% of military families feel "disconnected" from their communities and 50% can't see beyond the truth of the words and the "cause" is supposed to be sugar coated in political correctness, it's no wonder the toll is rising.


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