How many times a day are our veterans faced with a complicated decision to continue to fight or to just say, “I’ve had enough”? With the media coverage reporting an initial 22 veteran suicide-a-day rate, it is easy to see how veterans have become a statistic. Compare this to a society that would actually work to help those who served bravely for our American freedom during the Global War on Terrorism, both pre- and post-9/11. Now, with the Coronavirus adding additional hardships to our veteran community, it is even more important that we work to solve this problem through quality mental health solutions outside the Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VA).
The time for VA reform is now! We must put the needs of our military, veterans, and families before money, power, greed, and politics and rid ourselves of any lack of respect for their lives. As a fellow veteran who served as a noncommissioned officer in the US Army, I have always realized that what was done before us, what was done during our service and what will be done in the future has to be remembered in more ways than just words. All military and veteran lives matter. We have an obligation to do the right thing. We cannot put bandaids on the problems, which end up causing more harm than good to those in need.
Veterans should be allowed to go to any doctor of their choice. The VA should be operating solely as a hospital for specialized care for those requiring their services. The doctors who work at these new facilities should be trained to deal with polytrauma, mental health, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other critical areas of medicine that are specific to military operations and/or military service during times of war and peace. Veterans are too often pushed to the side because of scheduling issues at the VA. Insufficient resources add to the neglect due to the large number of our heroes coming back to the civilian world seeking quality health care.
Civilian hospitals, health clinics, recovery centers, and primary care facilities must gain a greater understanding of the veteran community and become more accessible to them. Our military family yearns to be accepted and not looked down on because of a lack of payment by the VA when utilizing the Mission Act. The long approval times when using the Mission Act can cause veterans to go over 20 days without care. They simply may not have insurance due to economic hardships. Mental health care is a major factor in suicide prevention for individuals with a disability. The ability to access resources is extremely critical for healing the mind, body and spirit of our brave warriors.
Now is the time to bring to light the real issues that veterans and disabled veterans are facing. Their frustrations grow when they lose hope that they are valued as human beings. We cannot afford to continue to push the elephant in the room under the rug or to turn a blind eye when an individual chooses to take their life. When you see veterans commit suicide in front of their families, commit suicide inside and outside the VA, and even go as far as to set themselves on fire, you realize that these cries for help must be met with immediate action.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of reading or hearing about veteran suicide in a news article or the nightly news. This is the United States of America! We have the greatest technology and medical facilities in the world. There is zero excuse as to why veterans and their families are treated so poorly by the American government. We have to be the change we want to see. We cannot allow someone else to control the narrative when “We the People” have the power to change others’ lives every single day.
The best way to connect with veterans and their families is to maintain constant communication, through allocation of resources, with mentors and peer groups. On the surface, it may appear that veterans want to be isolated and left alone. That is not true! We want to be treated fairly, just like everyone else, without the stigma staring us in the face. Veterans and military members don’t ask for handouts. What we do ask for is honesty, integrity and compassion for the sacrifices that were made both on and off the battlefield.
We have a lot of work to do. The invisible enemy will not go away until we start changing the so called “social norms”. The very present issue of suicide must be addressed through legislative changes at the federal, state, and local levels. Many great organizations out there serve our veterans. Some, such as the Disabled American Veterans, work for them along with many others. We must strive to combine resources, putting all hands-on-deck to solve this crisis that is plaguing America. I am the first to put my hand in the pile and I challenge everyone to come together to do what is necessary, sooner rather than later, to change a life and the future forever.
God bless and God speed to those who have served, are currently serving and to our future patriots. You are not alone. We will never forget and this we will defend to our last breath of air.
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