Since its release, the movie American Sniper portraying the life of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle has attracted millions of Americans from coast to coast to the box office. While the movie depicts the humbling dangers and challenges our troops face during combat, it is the movie's portrayal of the very real and very serious physical and mental health issues our servicemen and servicewomen face post-deployment that has grasped much of the nation's attention.
As a Vietnam veteran, I have the unique experience to understand first-hand what veterans face when returning home from combat. However, often times, they choose to silently endure the mental health issues they are plagued with post-deployment, leaving many Americans unfamiliar to what they are experiencing.
Now, through the release of American Sniper, Americans unacquainted with the mental trials and tribulations veterans face once home can see, hear and emotionally feel just how powerful these unfortunate experiences are. They learn, through Chris Kyle's story on the big screen, just how real and raw the troubles are and how much they affect our nation's heroes.
This is a much-needed spotlight on a growing issue.
According to new analysis, which will be published in the February edition of Annals of Epidemiology, recent servicemen and servicewomen committed suicide at a far higher rate than civilians not enrolled in military service. Among the most notable statistics presented is the discouraging reality that 22 veterans take their own lives daily.
Additionally, a study released last year by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) concluded that the suicide rate among 18- to 29-year-old veterans increased by 44 percent.
In light of last year's inexcusable scandal revealing that veterans died waiting for health care, we have an even bigger obligation to work together to serve and provide timely and sufficient resources to these brave men and women. The days of veterans not being provided the proper tools and information needed to improve post-deployment must come to an end.
We also need to continue to promote resources readily available to veterans, including:
• Veterans Crisis Line
• Defense Centers of Excellence 24/7 Outreach Center
• Defense Suicide Prevention Office
• National Resource Directory
• Department of Defense Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC)
However, in reality, these mentioned resources are just a few of many.
There is a far greater support system offering more resources for veterans returning home. Unfortunately, veterans are often unaware of all these tools they have access to.
Therefore, it's up to the rest of us to make the links and fill in the gaps.
Veterans put their lives on the line and pushed themselves to the absolute edge of mental and physical capacity to ensure our freedom is protected. That is why I applaud the attention brought to this issue through American Sniper and call on all Americans to go out and get involved, and help us to ensure that these brave individuals are taken care of and treated properly once they come home.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
For more information on mental health support for veterans, visit http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/.