"As 30,000 runners gather in Washington, DC tomorrow morning to for the DC Rock n Roll Marathon and ½, a group of 11 runners will run for 11 fallen heroes to equal “22 Too Many” – the tragic number of veterans who take their life per day to escape the personal war they are fighting. . We have secured permission from families to honor their sons in this manner. Running with pictures of our soldiers and Marines pinned to our front and back, upon finishing the race we will give the families our medals. In our minds and hearts they are NEVER FORGOTTEN."
Seeing the picture of my husband standing in for the missing picture of Andy was shocking at first because while my husband is still here and healing, Andy was one of the veterans I just couldn't reach. He wouldn't listen.
To this day every time I read about another suicide, the loss of Andy comes with them. It is something you just don't get over. The "what ifs" come flooding back and all the questions about what could have happened if mental health professionals and advocates knew more back then. The most heartbreaking thing I have to face is none of this should still be happening.
When Vietnam veterans came home, there was nothing for them or their families. Nothing to learn from. No lessons learned and we were all left to figure it out on our own. Vietnam veterans pushed for all the research to help them heal even though every generation before them came home from war carrying scars no one else could see.
They made a solemn vow that "Never Again Will One Generation of Veterans Abandon Another". When they came home none of the service organizations wanted them to join. Their communities ignored them. They left their homes alone and returned alone under the policy of deployments for a year so even when they arrived in country, they were not welcomed by the ones getting ready to leave. The "fucking new guys" could get them killed. They had the same attitude as they counted down their own number of days to leave. Somewhere along the days of deployment they formed a bond even with all that weighing on their minds. They were willing to die for each other.
Because of what they did when they came home, their inability to give up on each other and the rest of the country who turned their backs on them, we have psychologist and mental health professionals. We have crisis intervention teams and we have billions of dollars worth of research in understanding what trauma does. We know that there is a difference between the types of trauma producing the scars that hide.
We know that while a one time event, like 9-11, can produce PTSD in survivors as well as reaching people in the areas of the attacks, their PTSD is different than prolonged exposures like being a survivor of long term abuse. We know that surviving a natural disaster is different than trauma caused by other humans. We know that certain jobs produce the symptoms of PTSD like emergency responders and firefighters but their PTSD is different from members of law enforcement because while a firefighter risks their lives on a continual basis, they do not participate in the event itself with force. Law enforcement PTSD cuts deeper because everyday is a risk to their lives, much like firefighting but it also comes with the knowledge it could also be the day they have to kill someone. Their PTSD is very close to combat PTSD because, again it is the prolonged exposures, the nature of the events, the fact their buddies could die along with facing the fact they may have to take a life.
We know that the nature of warfare has changed and no longer does one standing Army in uniform go up against another honoring the rules of war. Today they dress like the rest of the population, hide among innocents, plant IEDs in the road and wait for the next vehicle to be blown up. They do the best they can to only target the "bad guys" but in the split second of decision making, all too often, an innocent person pays the price for what others do and that is something they just can't "get over" or "deal with" as if it was nothing.
We know that while medications can level off the chemicals in the brain and numb the pain, calm the nerves, medication alone will not heal them. We know while there is no cure for PTSD healing is possible and the sooner it begins, the more symptoms can be defeated. That what cannot be defeated can be dealt with and overcome.
Above all else we've learned over the last 40 years, this type of PTSD must be treated from a spiritual basis. It is a wound to the soul/spirit, the "moral injury" that has made the news recently but has been recorded back to the Bible. It is that gnawing within that haunts them. Questions about their faith as they question everything they believed is a loss to their impression of "who" they are and their place upon this earth.
We also know why this has nothing to do with "mental toughness" despite the billions invested in telling them they can "train their brains" to become tough enough to take what combat does.
Most of the suicides come when they return home and their buddies are no longer in danger. They do their jobs, continue to risk their lives and will not allow themselves to feel the tremendous emotional pain while others are in danger.
To read about the suicides continuing to claim more and more lives after these failed attempts to counter them is devastating. What many of us have learned over all these years, the lessons Vietnam veterans taught us have been as forgotten as they were when they came home. Generations have been abandoned by the new researchers pretending what was learned and proven never happened.
The reporters were stunned to discover as they erroneously thought 349 troops committed suicide but failed to notice the glaring numbers missing from their figures putting the number of military suicides at 492 at least. We will never know the true numbers because drug overdoses and accidents do not always come with a clear cause.
As with the reported veterans suicides at 22 a day, that came from a limited study of 21 states and taken from death certificates that indicated military service. Some may have been veterans but were not counted if it was not indicated on the certificate.
As sad as all of this is, we have to remember the families left to grieve and wonder what they could have done differently while they wonder what this nation could have done to help.
Keri and her friends are doing what they can. What are you doing besides reading this blog?