Note from the author:
As a layman, I share the frustration of most veterans who want to do something about military suicides, but don’t have a clue where to begin. This post is written from that perspective. I am not a doctor, but I am a brother to all of those who serve and have served. This is a family matter.
– Jeff Bacon
In working with severely wounded and injured veterans, a few things have become obvious to me. First, it is healing when veterans get together. They understand each other. They often share similar values and even when they don’t, they trust each other. In many cases veterans come home and return to communities that do not understand them. Veterans, however, understand other veterans. Togetherness is important.
Second, as Admiral Mike Mullen – champion of veteran issues during and after his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – has said many times, the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense simply cannot provide sufficient support to the millions of veterans throughout the country on their own. Communities, nonprofits, and other veterans must work together if we are ever going to put a dent in the alarming suicide rates. All of us – you and me – must wrap ourselves around those who served and be there to help each other heal.
Isolation has been linked to suicide. It may not be the cause—rarely is there a single “cause” for suicide—but it has been identified as a contributing risk. Those of us who are not psychiatrists may feel helpless when it comes to treating someone who is contemplating taking his or her own life, but we can all get involved by just being there. Treatment is not our role, but we can visit, or call, or even tap out a quick text message to show that we care. We can make it known that he or she does not have to face life’s struggles alone. All veterans must navigate through their own challenges; but they do not have to travel by themselves.
This is hard. It takes real commitment, not just slogans or national awareness campaigns. It requires us to get our hands dirty, to concentrate on individuals rather than demographic groups. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it takes love for one another. This will not be solved by research. It will be solved by veterans helping veterans, Sailors helping Sailors, one at a time, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they struggle to sort through life’s obstacles.
If we do that, I honestly believe we can save lives, and that is something veterans – even those of us without a Ph.D. – know how to do.
About the Author: Jeff Bacon is the well-known creator of the Broadside and Greenside cartoons for Military Times. What some may not know is that Jeff works with the Wyakin Warrior Foundation. He, alongside a team of veterans in his home state of Idaho, guides and mentors seriously wounded veterans through critical journeys in their lives: retraining, reintegration, and college. The foundation’s work empowers wounded veterans by helping them fulfill personal promises and redefine success. Additionally, he is an active member of the National Cartoonists Society and has assisted with the “Support the Troops” initiative arranging visits by professional cartoonists to active duty and VA hospitals to give back to those who served.
September is Navy Suicide Prevention Month. For more information, visit http://www.suicide.navy.mil.