Sunday, February 7, 2016

Veteran Suicides, The Stories of Their Lives Lost

Reporting on Veteran Suicides Easier Than Living With The Stories
Wounded Times
Kathie Costos
February 7, 2016

The reporters at San Diego Union Tribune did a fabulous job reporting on suicides. You really should read their stories and of those from the families left behind.

This report is on the simple fact it is hard to cover these stories for reporters but even harder if you have a personal connection to them. Families talk about their suffering, not for someone to feel sorry for them, but more for the sake they don't want others to know that level of pain they wished someone had stopped them from feeling.

Going on 34 years of doing this I remember what that felt like.  First I wanted to understand my husband.  He's a Vietnam veteran.  After growing up surrounded by veterans, I needed to know why he as so different and experiencing what my Dad called "shell shock." After all these years, he's living a good quality of life and we proved that no one is stuck suffering. Marriages don't have to end.  

I started to research it to understand him, then to help save him and his friends. Along the years I understood myself as well.  What I didn't understand was I couldn't save everyone.  I couldn't save my husband's nephew, who was also a Vietnam veteran.

I knew it all! I knew what he needed to know and how to explain it so that he wouldn't think it was his fault anymore than what happened to him after service was his fault alone.  The trouble is, I didn't know how to get him to listen.  He committed suicide and ever since then, every time I read about another suicide, it is like a dagger to my heart and I run through all the "what if" questions that never seem to be answered.

Back then, no one was talking about veterans surviving combat only to lose their lives by their own hands years afterwards.  I hoped someday they would stop suffering in silence and families would no longer feel shame for something that was not their fault.

Now they are talking and to me, these families are heroes.  Reporters finding value in telling their stories are vital in all of this.  With that said, there is still a lot of misinformation out there that never really seems to get corrected.

First is the number "22 a day" when that number is wrong. It freaks me out to hear it repeated by a charity taking care of the families as much as it nauseates me to read a politician using that number. They should know better.  As long as reporters do not learn the facts ahead of time, veterans will go on questioning the other information in the report. If they can't get that number right, what else are they getting wrong?

The CDC reports over 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year.  Every state has reported veteran suicides double the civilian population rate. That means there are over 26,000 a year ending the lives that survived military service.

Reporters do not remind folks that the vast majority of these veterans are over the age of 50 any more than they cover the simple fact that those are the veterans all the new charities won't care about.

Are all veterans equal? Our generation thought so but that was only after Vietnam veterans decided to fight for all generations despite how they were treated by older veterans.

Reporting on suicides is hard but telling the truth is harder when the majority are taking the easy way out repeating a number that is just easy to remember.

None of this is easy for the veterans and nothing is easy on the families they leave behind. PTSD does not have to win or defeat survivors of combat.

The San Diego Union-Tribune
By Jeanette Steele
Feb. 5, 2016

For journalists, writing about suicide is walking a knife’s edge.

On one hand, it’s a major issue that deserves attention.

“We have an ethical commitment to tell the truth about a public health problem,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University.

If you don’t report on suicides, he said, “You might as well not cover the dangers of smoking.”

On the other hand, he and other experts said news coverage that makes suicide seem inevitable, or like a legitimate solution, could lead to more people taking their lives.

News stories also should not disclose information that might prompt people in despair to copycat the event, such as writing about a particular train platform where people have jumped to their deaths.

For this project about younger U.S. military veterans, perhaps the biggest issue is whether the life challenges they face are presented as hopeless and unsolvable.

But the hurdles can certainly be overcome, according to those who specialize in the topic.

“There’s no need to suffer, there’s no need to end a life by suicide. It’s a health problem that has solutions,” said Kim Ruocco, a spokeswoman for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, a nonprofit group that helps military families deal with grief.

“You can show that, yes, we have some cracks in our system that need to be repaired, but there are lots of places where you can get hope,” said Ruocco, whose late husband, a Marine Corps officer, died by suicide in 2005.
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