Washington has among the nation’s highest concentrations of veterans — at the same time the U.S. is experiencing a dangerously high level of veteran suicides and the grinding pandemic is increasing isolation and stressors.
The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released earlier this month shows an uptick in veteran suicides. In a sobering metric, more U.S. vets have died by suicide in the last 10 years than service members who died from combat in Vietnam.
“Suicide among veterans remains disproportionately high, despite continued boosts to VA funding and efforts by Congress and the White House to curb the crisis,” Stars and Stripes reports.
For Washington state, the most recent VA data shows the suicide rate among vets at 31.3 per 100,000, significantly higher than the national suicide rate for all Americans, including vets and non-vets, at 18.1 per 100,000.
The VA and some states like Washington have focused in recent years on building out programs that seek to curtail veteran suicides by spotting warning signs in individuals.
Crisis hotlines are out there and meet an absolute need in our communities. What is often missing, though, is a discussion about prevention and empowering our families and communities to know what to look for, and more importantly what to do, before their family member or friend is in crisis, according to Washington’s Department of Veterans Affairs.
The problem, however, is that far more emphasis must be placed on reaching those vets in the state and across the country who don’t raise their hands, who are suffering in silence, whose physical or psychological injuries have left them perilously disconnected from others and who don’t avail themselves of state or federal services.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., puts his finger exactly on the issue: “What we found is that two-thirds of these veterans who take their own lives have had no contact with the VA.”
Connecting with these people before they despair is paramount.
That is why the Troops First Foundation and its partners in the military community are calling on veterans to share a sense of responsibility for those with whom they have served and to recognize the urgent need to connect.
Our ask is simple: If you live in Washington and are a veteran, reach out and connect with current and former battle buddies and let them know you care. In short, make a call, take a call and have an honest conversation. With research showing that active duty service members and vets in need of support often don’t seek help on their own, a call could save a life.
The foundation’s effort, known as “Warrior Call,” is seeking to have at least 50,000 current service members and vets make a phone call and connect with another by the end of the year.
Time is of the essence to make these connections. Invisible wounds linked to an underlying and undiagnosed traumatic brain injury can mirror many mental-health conditions. At the same time, vets can be burdened with moral injury from their experiences. The traumas can impact and erode a person’s sense of hope, leading them to disconnect from friends and family and cause some to see suicide as the only way to relieve their pain.
Warrior Call is a movement that every state should embrace, but especially Washington with its high concentration of veterans, and especially now — as the pandemic further isolates veterans who already might be silently spiraling downward.
“At this time of additional stress, we want to make certain that warriors, whether veterans or active duty, connect and check in with one another,” said Leroy Petry, a 2011 recipient of the Medal of Honor and co-chair of Warrior Call. “A simple call can make a huge, life-changing and lifesaving difference.”