For years, I’ve shared my point of view about the suicide rate in the Veteran and active duty military community. The theme has been the same every time: Struggles continue and the number of suicides continues to rise. Those who serve(d) need help and hope.
The numbers are black and white; according to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, the number of suicides across the active-duty military increased from 75 in the first quarter of 2022 to 94 in the first quarter of 2023. And Veterans are at 57% higher risk of suicide than those who haven’t served.
A new study from the University of Texas at San Antonio shows that suicide rates among American military Veterans have increased by more than 10 times in nearly two decades. What’s more, post-9/11 Veterans with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) have a significantly higher suicide rate than Veterans without TBI. The suicide rate for those with a TBI was 56% higher than among Veterans who didn’t suffer a TBI.
But are these numbers, this message, falling critically short in illustrating the magnitude of the issue? Have we, as a society, become complacent in our caring for others? Why are we continuing to hear of Veterans taking their own lives because they feel underwater, untethered, unsure, handcuffed, helpless and hopeless?
I recently connected with a 7-year Veteran, Kyle, who just completed our Health & Wellness Program. He shared, “When I got out, I had nothing; I was shell shocked going into the civilian world. I hit rock bottom on all fronts – emotionally, physically, mentally and relationally. I was ready to throw my life away because everything was spiraling out of control.”
Kyle is just one Veteran, but amongst the 222 Veterans we served last year, the majority – prior to treatment – responded “I disagree” to the question, “My life has a clear sense of purpose.”
The reasons someone dies by suicide are complicated and loss of purpose is just one factor. Isolation, a sense of non-belonging, and loss of hope are other factors, yet how difficult is it to let someone know their life is important? Our support should not and does not have to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as two words – YOU MATTER.
Our team at Boot Campaign took these two words – YOU MATTER – and made them our battle cry so that everyone who has laced up their boots to protect and defend our freedoms knows that their service, their sacrifice, and most importantly their lives matter today and every day.
While the military and Veteran community and those who serve them are stepping up to support one another, it’s the civilian sector that cannot settle for stagnation in numbers or even giving up on this complex problem.
As for Kyle he continued, “Last year, I was walking a tightrope, balancing giving up and going forward…no one wants to be vulnerable. We all have egos, but now, having experienced the individualized program at Boot Campaign and specifically the one-on-one therapy, I would tell any Veteran who is struggling that it is better to ask for help now. Take care of yourself and concentrate on you…doing so will be life-changing.”
Let’s each become a catalyst for change – positive change, pushing each other, especially Veterans, forward one step at a time towards a healthier future.