Linda, an Army veteran, went into the bathroom late one night to shoot herself in the head. Her family and the world would be better off without her, she thought to herself. Plus, she wanted to finally put an end to the bad dreams.
Her convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in 2010 taking out half her squad, she was one of the lucky ones, herself losing just her left leg.
Prior to the incident, she had been contemplating reporting a superior for sexual harassment during a night of heavy drinking with her unit. She decided against it, didn’t want to put her husband, a fellow soldier, through that.
Now back home she realized that her contribution and sacrifice had no real meaning. Was Iraq a better place after we left it? Nobody could give her good answers. She also struggled to find work as a mom of two and found that many companies were prejudiced against her service, especially when she moved back east. “They just didn’t think you’d be a good fit for the culture. Plus our CEO voted for AOC. You understand, right?” said her childhood friend who tried to get her an HR job at her tech company.
Her two boys (5 and 2) were in bed watching a movie with their headphones on. She knew her ex-husband would be here in the morning to pick up the pieces. She put the warm metal of the .45 to her head, and slowly squeezed the trigger until the darkness came.
I made up Linda, but the story of her is very real.
For some who read this, it will be the reflection in the mirror they don’t want to look at. Many others will just want to close their eyes, like a small kid watching a scary movie for the first time.
- In 2017, the suicide rate for Veterans was 1.5 times the rate for non-Veteran adults, after adjusting for population differences in age and sex.
- Firearms were the method of suicide in 70.7% of male Veteran suicide deaths and 43.2% of female Veteran suicide deaths in 2017. *2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report
Veteran suicides and other problems (I’m going to focus on suicide) aren’t going away by closing our eyes because we want the scary clown to vanish. The clown is in the room, we need to acknowledge that, and talk about solutions to help with a better military to civilian transition.
Because as a country we have over-traumatized my generation of veterans, the same way that the draft and Vietnam war did to that generation of veterans. The current Department of Defense is worn out.
Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into my generation’s Vietnam, just with a better homecoming.
My big observation, having watched my own SEAL community turn the guns on itself in many ways, is that it comes down to war with purpose and war without.
WWII produced a great generation of veterans who went on to build and run large companies. They compartmentalized the trauma of losing a buddy, of the concentration camps, of killing other human beings, because they had a clear purpose.
Defeating Hitler’s meth-fueled army, his allies, and the evil they represented was a pretty simple concept to understand and get behind for both the warfighters and everyone back home. Ask whomever on the street in America in the mid-40s why we were at war and the answers would be the same.
Ask the same question today about Iraq or Afghanistan and you’ll get conflicting answers or no answers at all. Not understanding strategy or purpose is no way to run a company, a country, or a war.
Conflict without purpose will dim the light in anyone. And we should know by now that nobody, especially the politicians, can give us straight answers on the reason for being in Afghanistan for 20 years or for invading Iraq.
War without purpose is a losing proposition for any country.
The Soviets had Afghanistan. America had Vietnam. Instead of learning from history, we moved “all in” because we had an apparently endless supply of poker chips. But instead of playing good poker we played the chip bully at the table and forgot to tend to our own house, America, and we are now paying for it in many ways. Veteran suicide is one.
Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” was a powerful example of how, if we have no purpose in our lives, we risk walking off into the dark woods never to be seen or heard from again. Purpose anchors us through pain and suffering; in its absence, we drift like an unanchored boat destined to wash up on the rocks.
So to me, it’s very clear why so many veterans are killing themselves: from the infantryman who’s battle buddy got smoked, the cook who’s friend got it from a roadside bomb and the Navy SEAL operator who took a life when he didn’t really have to. They are now killing themselves to escape a war without purpose and the demons that come to haunt them in the cold dark of the night.
My combat experience had minor trauma. The biggest thing I had to come to terms with was an airstrike against enemy terrorists who had women and children with them that died as a byproduct of war.
However, the key ingredient that allowed me to stuff that bad memory in a box and throw it away was a purpose and a clear mission that was accomplished when I left early in 2002.
The time I went to war things were clear and simple. The Twin Towers were still smoldering at ground zero and we went to stamp out evil. Our mission was very clear to everyone. We were going to Afghanistan to wipe out the terrorist training camps, kill some bad guys, and come home.
America and coalition forces largely did that in under two years, and we should have left. But, like the unwanted house guest, we overstayed our welcome. Then went on to invade Iraq and set the stage for civil war in Syria on the heels of destabilizing Libya for no apparent reason. We got an American ambassador and two Navy SEALs killed, one of them, Glen Doherty, a close friend of mine. Why? For what?
There are not many veterans I know today who would say Iraq or Afghanistan are better off after our invasion. America is not better off, surely we can see that now. And while our country is tearing itself apart the veteran suicide rate continues to climb higher.
To make matters worse, the political and economic war machine we fired up in 2001 is still running over 20 years later. The only clear winners are the big defense companies who love to say, “thank you for your service,” when in reality they should say, “thank you for your suicide.”
What do we do?
Take the hands away from our eyes and stare hard at the situation for what it is.
We can start holding our elected officials accountable at the ballot box. We should put massive pressure on the government to close down the Veterans Administration and give veterans access to private healthcare. The VA is so broken I don’t think it can really be put back together. The organization is riddled with internal fraud, poor patient care, long hold times, and system of treatment influenced by big pharma that throws hardcore prescription drugs and surgery at veterans rather than holistic solutions.
All of which is totally unacceptable.
SOFREP has lost so many staff to poor treatment at the VA coupled with drugs and alcohol over the past 8 years we now are forced to screen heavily for substance abuse issues. One team member we tried to get help, died last year from an overdose. So this is all very real for us and many others in the military community.
We can look to military charities but screen them carefully. Most charity rating systems are also bought and paid for so don’t just rely on a 4-star rating. Ask hard questions and focus on the results based organizations where you can visibly measure the good work they do.
The government and the Veteran community needs to do a better job at creating modern veteran alumni programs and encourage cooperation among fellow veterans. Organizations like the VFW are little more than cheap drinking clubs, filled with groupies, and have lost touch with the modern veteran. They do more damage than good.
As Americans, we should also encourage each other to create environments where civil discourse and debate can exist. At a time where people are afraid to speak up for anything because they fear the internet mob will come for them without mercy.
These are just a few ideas, I’m sure you have more of your own so please share them on your social media pages, and engage below in the comments section, and most importantly take action. Because we need good ideas and good people that can put them into action. We need this now more than ever because “Thank you for your service” ain’t gonna cut it anymore.