Why are we failing our veterans? The brave men and women who risk their lives to keep ours safe, are killing themselves at frightening numbers.
They have simply given up.
I just happened upon this article, written by Melinda Henneberger for the Washington Post on July 14, 2014. I was overwhelmed with sadness for the parents of Daniel Somers, as they testified about their son’s suicide.
Did You Know This About America’s Veterans?
According to a report published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2016, which analyzed 55 million veterans’ records from 1979 to 2014, the current analysis indicates that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide per day.
Why are we failing our veterans? Those fine men and women who risk their lives so that ours can be safe?
Inadequate Mental Health Services For Our Veterans:
How NOT To Prevent Suicide:
Howard and Jean Somers, parents of Daniel Somers, testify about their son’s suicide during a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing about the VA’s Mental Health Care procedures.
Parents of military veterans who took their own lives after surviving combat told a congressional panel on Thursday how not to prevent suicide:
- Turn away a veteran of some 400 combat missions in Iraq because he’s no longer active in the National Guard.
- Then turn him away because he was previously in the Guard and refer him to a military facility where he’s promptly referred back to VA.
- Now tell him to wait for a postcard with his appointment time.
- Refuse to refer him outside the Veterans Affairs health-care system.
- When he finally does get his first VA date with a psychiatrist, have that doctor inform him that he’s retiring and won’t be able to see him a second time.
- Emphasize that he will, however, be seen by another doctor – just as soon as one becomes available.
- Never get back in touch, and let him run up considerable debt getting what help he can in the private sector.
- And finally, watch that veteran sprawled on the floor, crying, in the corner of a VA hospital where he’s gone while having flashbacks and begging to be admitted.
- Refuse to see him again, but assure him he’s free to stick around until he feels well enough to drive himself home.
What Is PTSD?
After all that, Daniel Somers committed suicide last summer, his parents tearfully testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday. He was 23.
Harold and Jean Somers took turns reading their statement, peering through nearly matching wire-rimmed glasses.
A few times, he finished her sentence when she started to cry. Once, she did the same for him.
In 2011, Daniel Somers wrote about the crushing guilt he felt.
He said: I was called upon to employ deadly force on a regular basis – often in situations where noncombatants ended up in the crossfire. “To this day, I am unable to provide even a rough approximation as to the number of civilian deaths in which I may be complicit.”
In his final months, Somers suffered from post-traumatic stress so severe he wore a towel around his head. He said it helped keep out the voices, the light and the sound.
Clay Hunt, United States Marine:
Clay Hunt, a Marine who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life in 2011. His parents, Richard and Susan Selke, added more to the “what not to do” list.
What Not To Do:
- Tell someone who has at last found an antidepressant that works well that he has to change drugs because there’s no generic version available.
- Once that hurdle is cleared, tell him the VA pharmacy doesn’t stock that drug, but it will be mailed to him in seven to 10 days. Ignore all medical advice against stopping anti-depressants cold.
- Now tell him the prescription can’t be refilled because it was written in Colorado rather than Houston, where he’s just moved — and thus he must start all over in the system, and wait to be reevaluated.
- Classify him as only entitled to 30 percent disability pay even though he is so compromised by the symptoms of his post-traumatic stress that he isn’t able to work.
- Lose his paperwork for 18 months, and then five weeks after his death, finally review his appeal and conclude that he should be on full disability. Notify his survivors of the good news.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), introduced a bill on Thursday called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. It would require the National Guard and VA to work together.
Portwine’s Mother Speaks:
“I’m begging this committee to do something,” Portwine said. “He should have gotten an automatic mental health evaluation.”
Brian was a 23 year old soldier in Infantry 1st team, 2nd Batallion, 8th division deployed to Iraq for 15 months.
During his first tour his Bradley tank was struck by an EFP and set on fire. The five in the tank were all injured. Brian suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and lacerations and shrapnel to his head, face and legs.
He also suffered with short term memory loss. After this incident he suffered from PTSD. He would wake his comrades, screaming: “We’re on fire!”
The DoD redeployed him for a 2nd tour in 2010 and he had severe anxiety and PTSD and short term memory loss.
He came home in December 2010 and applied for disability. Brian was given appointments to evaluate for disability 8 months later. in October of 2011.
He took his life May 27th, 2011 as he had lost his hope in his recovery. The VA and DoD failed him.