Wake Up, America.
We are crossing a serious milestone in our nation's history -- and nobody knows it.
The latest U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) report from the DEFENSE CASUALTY ANALYSIS SYSTEM puts the number of U.S. military killed in action (KIA) while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan at 6,567 as of December 14, 2012.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans are not correlating the lives lost in The War On Terror with the catastrophic loss of life occurring when warriors come home. In the United States, every 80 minutes a U.S. Military Veteran dies from suicide. That's 18 per day, 6,570 per year.
Skeptical of this statistic? Here's a Policy Brief titled: Losing the Battle, The Challenge of Military Suicide from the Center for a New American Security.
If this trend continues there will be more Post 9/11 Veteran Suicides on the near horizon than are names on the Vietnam Wall (58,261), do the math.
Herein lies a big "Catch 22" that is a part of the homecoming dilemma Veterans and their families are faced with.
Problem: The Preparedness and Decompression Dilemma
When service members leave the military and become veterans they are no longer employees under the care of the Department of Defense. Upon separation from military service, all health care and mental health services transfer from the DOD to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). DOD out-processing ends and the VA in-processing begins.
Unfortunately, by the time Veterans who need help the most arrive home, for many, an opportunity to most effectively help them has already passed. And no one is speaking up about it with a strong enough call to action... Until now.
Because Veterans are trained to be self-reliant and to "complete the mission" at all cost, it is unacceptable for many who are "at risk" to ask for help or to receive assistance when offered. Historically, this has been a major barrier to receiving care and continues to be the case with present day Veterans.
Despite the best efforts of the military, the Veterans Administration and other providers, it is not enough (by themselves) to prevent thousands of veterans and their families from falling through the cracks of our society. To illustrate this point, you need only to pick up any newspaper, watch any news channel, or use any search engine to find an alarming volume of tragic statistics indicating our returning veterans and their families are in trouble.
Common sense is telling us that veterans who are reluctant to seek help can fall into a higher "at risk" group, especially if they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) from their wartime experiences. To compound the problem, self-medicating their symptoms with alcohol and drugs can lead to addictions, domestic violence, divorce, homelessness, incarceration and suicide.
There are many "Resiliency" and "Soldier Fitness" models being explored in different branches of the military but what is needed is a world class, "Best Practices" model with a long term commitment to trauma and brain research. A model that gets better and better with each passing year. To learn more about where brain research is heading for diagnosing the existence and severity of Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury, start following the former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Retired General Peter Chiarelli who is now the CEO of One Mind for Brain Research.
Battlefield Medicine would be a great example to model. Right now, if a person gets shot or blown up on the battlefield there is roughly a 90% chance they will make it home alive no matter how serious their injuries, due to the advancements in battlefield medicine.
What we need is this same level of commitment and research to discover how to help warriors decompress from the high operational tempo of war. A process that helps them recover from their traumatic injuries and experiences with more resilience. And as important as physical injuries, a program that helps them through the realities of grief, loss, depression, sleeplessness and the moment to moment triggers of Post Traumatic Stress. To learn more about this pick up a copy of "Once a Warrior Always a Warrior" by Dr. Charles Hoge.
Military training does a thorough job of conforming and compressing the hearts and minds of young adults entering the armed forces. One would think that given our nation's history of war and of bringing warriors home, that a proven and equally effective decompression or de-commissioning process would exist for assimilating Veterans back into family, education, employment and civilian life. A process that preserves the leadership qualities and positive attributes of the military experience but also helps each individual to heal the invisible wounds of war. Unfortunately, this is not the case system wide.
What is needed is a national voice of not only Veterans but from their immediate and extended family members to make a public declaration that we are failing as the default homecoming safety net. Less than 1 ½ of 1% of the American public even serve in the military. We are not qualified to understand how to help our Veterans when they need it the most.
We need help.
If the greatest barrier to care for Veterans to receive the help they need is their own aversion or inability to ask for help, our focus should be single mindedly on finding ways to remove this barrier.
Sometimes the simplest answer is the best answer:
What if the easiest solution was to help Veterans before they become Veterans?
What if soon-to-be veterans didn't have to raise their hand to ask for help? What if the solution was part of the separation process just like basic training is part of the on-boarding process?
Solution: Help Veterans, Before they Become Veterans
National Petition to The Office of the President
In an effort to get ahead of the problem, Purple Star Veterans and Families poses a solution to bring all of the stakeholders in homecoming to the table with a common goal: To save lives and to keep families together.
The problem with this strategy is that no one has ever done this before. But obviously, no one has figured out homecoming either.
If the existing programs for preparing soon-to-be Veterans for homecoming were succeeding, the epidemic of suicides would be declining, not at an all time high with no end in sight. At present all that our leaders can declare is "preventing Veteran suicide is our highest priority" but without a clear, actionable and unified strategy to include the civilian safety net, how can this be realistically accomplished?
Two main initiatives of the national petition:
To bring attention to these important solutions, if you have not already done so, please go to http://www.purplestarfamilies.
Our Goal: 1 Million Signatures
Lets get homecoming right this time.