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:
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.