I’ve been screaming about military and veteran suicide for several years now. I know it’s been a fact of life for centuries, but when it became personal, I started paying attention. After attending three funerals for Marines who took their lives, and living through my own son’s battle with suicidal ideations, it’s no longer just a story about another kid from another family.
Earlier this morning, after reading the column by Nicholas Kristof, A Veteran’s Death: The Nation’s Shame, in the New York Times, and watching the associated video by Timothy Grucza, entitled Good Night Ryan, I was interested to see what people were saying. I always find the comment section to be interesting because I can get a good sense of how people really feel about an issue.
After reading a callous comment on a twitter feed, I became unglued. A Navy psychiatrist, a guy paid to take care of our combat Marines, responded to Mr. Kristof’s column with the following comment: “I think PTSD and mTBI are red herrings. You almost never read about a case where there wasn’t drug/alcohol abuse.”
A red herring? Are you serious? After ten years of war and multiple combat deployments, do you really believe that Post Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injuries are just distracting us from the real reasons that so many of our combat veterans are taking their lives? From under which rock did you come?
The doc even added, “Plus, over past decade I’d argue that we’ve recruited less mentally healthy enlistees.”
Wow! Really? Less mentally healthy enlistees? Maybe some, but certainly not the ones I knew. They were in Special Forces. Are you telling me that Marines who passed the rigorous physical and mental requirements to be a part of Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) are less mentally healthy?
With my blood boiling, I couldn’t resist making a comment to the doctor. “PTSD and TBI red herrings? Really? This response is evidence of why there is such a problem.”
His response: “Most suicides entirely unrelated to combat PTSD.”
I’m open minded. I can look at both sides of the coin. Perhaps he’s got something here. I’ve always felt that the command climate had much to do with the suicide rate. The lack of compassion from this doctor might go far to prove my point.
I imagine there are a lot of things that factor into military and veteran suicide. I will even agree that drugs and alcohol probably play a big role, however, why drugs and alcohol are involved in the first place might be a question more worth answering. Could it be that drugs and alcohol are the treatment of choice for our combat veterans because of the stigma associated in asking for help?
With comments such as the ones I’ve mentioned above, it’s no wonder that using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain would be the likely choice of a combat veteran with PTSD and TBI. It would only take one office visit with that doc for me to realize I wasn’t going to get much unbiased help.
I’ll even ask the obvious. What is the difference between numbing the pain with alcohol and numbing the pain with drug cocktails that are being prescribed by doctors working for the Department of Defense and the VA system? Neither approach is doing anything to help our veterans fight the demons of war which are so large and unyielding.
If I’m a combat veteran, especially if I’m still on active duty, and I know I’m going to have to wait weeks or even months for an appointment, and I know that the appointment will lead to me being stigmatized and overmedicated, and I know that I might potentially be taken out of my unit to rot in a wounded warrior transition unit for years, prior to being thrown out on the street, I’m probably going to go buy the six pack.
Anyone working in the system has a responsibility to be open minded and willing to help find the real problem and work towards a real solution. This check the box mentality, which labels our troops with personality disorders and other diagnoses that will keep veterans from receiving deserved benefits has got to stop.
To those of you employed by the Department of Defense or the VA who have a job that relates to the mental health of our troops, just remember their lives are in your hands. One day it might be your son or daughter who needs the help. Are you treating each patient as you would treat your own? If you’re not, then I suggest you find a new job.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution!