A Strategy of Wellness Would Help Combat the Military and Veteran Suicide Epidemic
Posted by Moran Banai on April 18
Twenty-eight soldiers reportedly took their own lives in March, almost double the 15 suicides reported in February, according to the U.S. Army. This tragic news comes as veteran suicide received unprecedented national exposure this week.
On Sunday, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof ran an op-ed and video about Specialist Ryan Yurchison, who served in Iraq in 2006 and whose family believes he committed suicide after failing to receive help from his local VA. In addition, Craig F. Walker of The Denver Post received the Pulitzer for a powerful photo series chronicling the life of a veteran struggling after war with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The stories of these veterans compounded by the Army’s March suicide report leaves us with two critical questions: What more can we do to fight the suicide epidemic in our community? And how can we help service members and veterans transition to a meaningful life after service?
U.S. Army Suicides 2009 - 2012
A groundbreaking report released last week by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) helps us move toward some possible solutions. In Well After Service: Veteran Reintegration And American Communities, Nancy Berglass and Dr. Margaret C. Harrell call for “a new and creative approach to the reintegration and ultimate wellness of veterans.” They analyze the questions of what it means for veterans to be well, what the government can do to help ensure they are well, and how it can help give direction to the more than 40,000 community groups that currently support our nation’s service members, veterans, and their families.
Berglass and Harrell argue that we must develop a new definition of “veteran wellness.” It must take into account the visible and invisible wounds of many veterans, some which will last a lifetime; but also not assume that these wounds preclude veterans from leading healthy and fulfilling lives. The needs that must be met to achieve wellness, according to the authors, are nurturing and supportive social and personal relationships, sufficient mental and physical health, the satisfaction of material needs, and purpose, including work and education or other activities that give meaning to a veteran’s life.
This definition of wellness, they argue, should be a guide for both the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs in developing a more coherent transition strategy for service members leaving the military. Currently, no agency has responsibility for the whole transition. But even then, government cannot carry the responsibility alone to prevent veterans from falling between the cracks. Tens of the thousands of community organizations have emerged to fill some of the gaps in the transition. Still, they are not receiving the strategic guidance they need from the government about what their goal(s) should be.
If we want to end the suicide crisis crippling our community after 10 years of war, then the public and private sectors need to collectively innovate and strengthen the support structure for the military and veterans’ communities at large. Redefining “wellness” for service members and veterans is the base start. It’s the first step on the path toward delivering comprehensive programs and resources for the 2.4 million veterans of these wars and veterans of all generations.
The President backed by DoD and VA must play a leading role in this effort. Adopting this new definition—essentially, by issuing a new national call to action—will help guide his administration’s policies and its work with community groups nationwide to ensure that all veterans get the support they need to thrive from the day they deploy throughout the rest of their lives.
If you're a veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan, know that you're not alone no matter the challenges you face. IAVA has a standing partnership with The Veterans Crisis Line to provide free, confidential support 24/7 for members and their families. Call or text 1-800-273-8255 (press 1) for immediate support or chat live online here.
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