Mental Health/Veterans/Suicide
by – Sheri de Grom

Suicide Prevention Ribbon

Suicide Prevention Ribbon

Every sixty-five minutes a United States Military Veteran kills themselves. We lose one-hundred-fifty-four Veterans per week. The reality of how many Veterans commit suicide is unknown. The number is higher than the actual number provided. Two of our largest states, California and Texas, don’t report suicides.

Veterans have problems connecting with The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain help. Many Veterans don’t trust the VA and the abundance of double-talk that often occurs when they seek help. Fewer than half of our nation’s 22.3 million eligible veterans are enrolled with the VA.

The VA itself admits veterans face huge challenges getting their assistance. Once the veteran does ‘get into’ the VA system, appointments are difficult to get. After the initial appointment, there are long delays in receiving a treatment plan and follow through.

Vietnam era veterans, in particular, are often distrustful of the VA. Fifty-eight thousand American’s died in the Vietnam War. Over one-hundred-fifty thousand have committed suicide since the war ended.

Many older veterans are at the age where the structures of their lives are loosening up. Before retiring from their civilian careers, they pushed their depression and PTSD down and focused on work and the demands of family life. They returned from Vietnam and Korea without developing community involvement or other activities. Upon retirement, many turn to alcohol to push the unwanted wartime memories away. More than half of our veterans committing suicide are fifty or older.

A VA study reported that the percentage of older veterans with a history of VA health care that committed suicide was higher than that of veterans not associated with VA health care.

Attention to veteran suicide has focused on service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the most recent numbers reflect that seven out of ten veterans who have committed suicide are over the age of fifty.

Eleven years after the first troops entered Afghanistan and two years after combat operations ended in Iraq, our nation still does not know why its fighting men and women are dying after they come home. No governmental entity follows the fates of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who aren’t enrolled with the VA—nearly half of all recent veterans.

Last year, the San Francisco-based Bay Citizen reported that since 2007, more service members have died after returning home than in combat. VA officials told the news organization they had no interest in determining causes of death for every veteran, insisting the agency already had a handle on the problem.

If the VA has a handle on the problem, why are our service members committing crimes they have no interest in completing? They tell their buddies they want the pain to go away and the criminal action is referred to as “suicide by cop.” Other Veterans drink themselves to death or an overdose of drugs. Some eat their gun. Research reveals hundreds of one-vehicle accidents involve a Veteran driving into a no-win accident where death is guaranteed.

Achieving any health care program for a veteran within the VA system is a hit and miss situation. [I speak from years of experience in assisting hundreds of veterans obtain the health care they deserved]. It was from my position with JAG in California that I came head-to-head with the inadequacies of The Department of Veterans Affairs and knew Veterans would always be a part of my advocacy work.

Veteran suicides are not reported unless the family or someone close to the veteran elects to notify the VA that the death was a suicide. In this instance, the veteran is living independently of any VA programs and there’s no requirement to report the cause of death to The Department of Veterans Affairs.

In closing, while researching this and other topics I came across some disturbing facts about our Vietnam Veterans. I cannot take credit for compiling the information. Charlene Rubush recently reread Chuck Dean’s book, Nam Vet, and set them forth for consideration:

  • Since 1975, nearly three times as many Vietnam Veterans have committed suicide than were killed during the war.
  • Fifty-eight-thousand-plus Americans died in the Vietnam War. Over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended.
  • The national accidental death and suicide rate among Veterans is fourteen thousand men per year—33% above the national average.
  • Of those veterans who were married before going to Vietnam, 38% were divorced within six months after returning from Southeast Asia.
  • The divorce rate among Vietnam Veterans is above 90%.
  • Five-hundred thousand Vietnam Veterans have been arrested or incarcerated. There are an estimated 100,000 Vietnam Veterans in prison today, and 200,000 on parole.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse problems range between 50% and 75%.

Forty percent of Vietnam Veterans are unemployed and 25% earn less than $7,000 per year.

Thank you for reading with me. I’d planned for this to be a September blog to go along with National Suicide Prevention Month. I had no idea just how much the topic and the proportionate numbers would pull at not only my heart and soul but at my emotional and physical self as well.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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  1. cindy knoke says:

    Plus there was a prominent politican who just said today, that he will approve no further budget for suicide prevention among veterans.
    Is is so simply discouraging.
    The private contracting doesn’t work either. These are mental health business people intent on making money.
    Think Tri-Care.
    Mental Health and Medicine should operate purely as non-profits.
    That way the motivation rests with taking care of people.
    If someone wants to make easy money, they can,
    be a lawyer.

  2. cindy knoke says:

    Thank you for posting this Sherri. Words fail, our country seems to be failing big time too. So sad….

  3. Angie Mc says:

    The truth hurts. Well researched and written post as always, Sheri, and my heart breaks with yours. I’m forwarding this to Dave.

    • Angie – Thank you for your continued support. In the process of digging deep for the numbers I simply wanted to stop and hug my dog or find any number of other things to do but knew I had to stay after the research. If Dave has thoughts on how civilians never associated with the military might help these veterans, I’d love to hear about them. I’m receiving requests almost daily via e-mail, etc. for ideas. It warms my heart that ordinary citizens want to help.
      I think I need a bowl of soup:) Sheri

      • Angie Mc says:

        Quick update, Sheri. My husband was offered a job with the VA 😀 If all goes well, he will retire from PHS by the end of March and start in the VA doing clinical psych work. Please root for us that all goes smoothly. I look forward to more conversations on the subject of how to meet the needs of our vets ❤ Enjoy your holiday break!

        • Angie – That’s great news that the vets will have David on their side. Did he happen to catch an article regarding the lack of military knowledge among mental health providers? It’s been a serious issue for many years, long before Iraq & Afghanistan. The Rand Corporation found VA mental health staff 70% better in understanding the military environment than those serving Tricare or active duty soldiers. The link for the article is: http://www.military.com/spouse/military-life/military-resources/woefu

          • Angie Mc says:

            Thanks, Sheri! The link isn’t opening for me, if you have a chance, can you resend? I would love to pass it on to Dave. I can totally believe the discrepancy, but 70% is shocking! Dave has been in the military since he was 18. When he did his Clinical Psych PhD internship with the military, I believe he was the only intern with prior military experience. Sound like things haven’t changed. Sigh.

            • Angie – I’ll go back to the web site where I found the article and look for perhaps a better link. I know I picked it up from Spouse Buzz which is a link to military.com. I’m thrilled Dave has the military background. He’ll hit the ground running. If you don’t mind, could you send your e-mail address to: sdegrom@conwaycorp.net and if nothing else I’ll scan the article and send it to you or be able to send it directly to your e-mail without using the blog to go through. Let me know how you want to handle it. Sheri P.S. If I had an e-mail address I could send them to you as I come across them because I might not work them into a blog for several months.

  4. Thanks for a most important post, Sheri. I am a Vietnam vet who has had outstanding care since I entered the VA health system 2 years ago. I have seen several VA specialists, and if they can’t get me in to see a specialist in a reasonable amount of time, the VA sends me to a specialist in the private sector. I have had several surgeries with very little waiting for the operations.

    • John, I hope you know how happy both Tom and I are that you are receiving excellent care at your VA. I think two cards are at play in your favor. You are a Vietnam vet who entered the VA system 2 years ago and not all those years ago when the VA wanted nothing to do with a Vietnam vet and they more often sent them away to find their own way. Additionally, your speaking and total ability to communicate enables you to tell your physicians what you want and expect. Many of our veterans are coming in off the street dirty, hungry and in many cases extremely distrustful of the system. Yours is a success story and I’m thankful for that. You have no idea how thankful Tom and I both are. How we wish all veterans were receiving the same level of care. We have that care with Tom’s psychiatrist but with no one else. Matter of fact, all other medical care goes to the private sector and will most likely remain there.
      Thank you for commenting and as always, I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Sheri

  5. jbw0123 says:

    This is a fantastic post, hard as it is to read. The numbers are staggering. And heartbreaking.

  6. How can we press the button “like” reading something like this?? I assume our “likes” in this case mean understanding and the wish something in the near future may change regarding this situation. Very touching post, Sheri.

    All the very best.
    Warmly, Luana.

    • Luana, I understand. I too become confused with the like button when I read something particularly disturbing. I’m appreciative of being informed and sickened by what I’ve read in one full swoop. The more I read and heard about Veteran suicide, the more I knew I had to write about the subject. Thank you for taking the time to read with me and commenting. Sheri

  7. Gallivanta says:

    Sheri, these statistics are mind-boggling. As you say, it’s a wonder anyone wants to volunteer when this is the aftermath. I am not sure how we compare here but I know our paperwork is very off putting, especially if one is not feeling well to begin with. That applies across the board and not just for veterans with disabilities or special needs. As for care-giving, I think Governments all over the world take advantage of the family care-giver. The financial value of their work is in the billions, yet they are usually completely ignored in Govt budgets/economic policies. Take care of yourself. This must have been a grueling post to put together.

    • Gallivanta – Yes, this was a difficult post to put together yet I felt I would be shirking my responsibilities if I didn’t carry out my intended population base for coverage in September. I haven’t addressed the family members dealing with becoming a caregiver and military spouses and children being sucked into suicide at an alarming rate.
      November is National Caregivers Month and I plan to take a couple weeks away from blogging coming up soon. You’ll never know how much I love my weekly visit to you blogs. The calming colors, wealth of links to explore, music to listen to, your artistic arrangements and on and on – you’ll never know how much they calm my soul and help me feel whole again. Thank you, Sheri

  8. hoperenea says:

    These statistics aren’t only appalling, but heart breaking. What are some things a regular civilian can do to help this situation. I have always been fascinated by military history in my school years, but knowing the history is not enough. How can people like me help the cause?


    • Hope – My heart sings that you are willing to reach out to veterans and help make a difference. Recently a new campaign opened up called ‘One Small Act.’ It emphasizes the effect that just one person, one conversation, or one act can have on the live of a Veteran or Service member by offering hope and opening the door to support.
      Many veterans are lonely and have closed themselves off from their families and friends. These individuals are the most at risk because the veteran believes no one cares rather they live or die.

      Should you wish to strike up a conversation with a Veteran you meet on the street or the dog park or anywhere for that matter: thank them for their service, ask what they did in the service, keep the conversation going and ask where they served and maybe how old they were the first time they deployed. I like to ask what’s the best memory they have of being in the military and most important of all, always focus on what’s next for the Veteran.

      Veterans housed in nursing homes rarely ever have visitors and more often than not, never have a visitor. I’ve visited with veterans in such environments who have been in nursing homes for over 20 years and haven’t seen a family member, an old friend or even someone that drops off a tin of home baked cookies and sits with them for a while.
      A particular veteran I remember didn’t need to be in the nursing home but when he was discharged from the hospital they couldn’t send him to intensive physical therapy because he had nowhere to live and no one to care for him if he did have a place to live. Can you imagine going into a nursing home at the age of 28 and having zero hope of never getting out.

      Most cities have veteran walk-in offices run apart from Veterans Affairs. These office are run by men and women who know what it is to be a veteran and need help. They’ll do whatever it takes to help a veteran. They help with the in-put of data for filing disability claims, etc.
      Thank you for your interest in helping our Veterans. Sheri

      • hoperenea says:

        This is wonderful information to have on hand. I would love to be able to help when and where I can.I will be researching this topic more thoroughly and I will re-post any information I find. I actually have a few friends that I went to high school with that served. And, to answer your question, I am currently 28 years old and I can NOT imagine having no where to go. It is a devastating fact and a real eye opener.

        • Hope, I’ll continue to post any new info I come across. I’ll also be interested in anything you discover.

          • hoperenea says:

            I have since sent an email to the VA Hospital to try to get a little more information. I’ll let you know what iI come up with.

            • Hope – Thank you for taking positive action on behalf of our Veterans. Last night I was thinking of ways you might find ways to help faster instead of waiting to hear from the VA itself. Bill @ AZVHV.wordpress.com (You’ll find him here in the comment section also and he’s an around great guy) is invested with VAREP. The acronym stands for Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals, a nationwide non-profit started by Son Nguyen. All members ore vets and the focus is affordable housing and employment for veterans.
              I’m not sure where you live, but talk to Bill and this might be an organization you can tap into to assist. You’ll also find Bill’s e-mail on his web site.
              If you live in or near a city with universities and colleges, most have office staff who coordinate Veterans and their G.I. Benefits for higher education. Many of the veterans need assistance with different subjects – I’ve heard tutors are needed along with individuals to help prepare resumes, etc. Often this can be lending an ear while the Veteran talks through much of what they’ve been thinking about and there’s been no one else willing to sit and listen.
              Shelters cater to all Veterans but it seems to be hear that I meet the must vulnerable to suicide veteran. Often walking in on an afternoon with a deck of playing cards or a domino game will allow a veteran an opportunity to engage with someone but often it takes multiple meetings before they’ll talk. At this time of year when our homeless veterans and many others have no place to go on Thanksgiving or the days surrounding the holidays are the most difficult and there’s a real need for help to serve food and be available to help Veterans in any way possible.
              Talk to shelter program director directors. Often they’ll help you tread through the ‘deep water’ and can point you in the direction where your talents will be of greatest use. Many in shelters are striving for meaningful work and once again, resumes are critical. Many cannot read at a level required, math and other subjects are in critical need.
              I haven’t posted a blog I have prepared but it has to do with one of the most important the VA has put in place. The VA does not have the resources to care for hospice patients and most of them are sent out to community nursing homes. The nursing homes like this but few in the environment understands the real needs of a Veteran. My take on this is that when a soldier has given his life to protect our country, he shouldn’t have to die alone. To participate as a volunteer in this program, visit http://www.volunteer.va.gov and there you may fill out a volunteer application.
              I have one more idea, Hope, but I need to do a bit of research before I pass it on. You are a remarkable young woman. I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving.
              I plan to take a blogging break. However, I’ll be checking in with bloggers on more or less a daily basis so please, never hesitate to drop me a line on the blog or at my e-mail. The blog is probably faster until I clean out my 30,000+ messages. My e-mail is listed at the top of my blog. Sheri

              • hoperenea says:

                This information is extremely helpful and I will be sure to check out the volunteer website. I definitely plan to find out what I can and pass it along. Thank you for the well wishes and I wish the same for you and your family as well!

  9. hoperenea says:

    Reblogged this on Peace of Pie and commented:
    This article is both interesting and heartbreaking at the same time. I have had several family members serve this country. I have always been intrigued with military history especially that of WWII and Vietnam. We have to do something to be sure our vets, no matter what era, are receiving the help they need and deserve. What can we do?

  10. lbeth1950 says:

    I just spoke to someone abou this yesterday. Our people must have the help thy have earned!


  12. AZVHV.wordpress.com says:

    Reblogged this on AZVHV and commented:
    I was previously unaware of these facts and since reading Sheri’s post, can’t seem to get this out of my mind. With great difficulty Sheri researched and verified the data. I find it disturbing that these numbers are not readily available. Don’t you agree that as a nation we should be ashamed of not addressing, and in fact, of trying to hide this issue? On a more personal level, my eyes have certainly been opened. This is something I know I can never un-see! I’m not sure yet how I can be a part of the solution, but I come in contact with a lot of Veterans in my profession and I know my eyes will now remain wide opened. I’m going to start by reblogging this post. ~Bill

    • Bill – Thank you for the reblog. I’m humbled by your kind words.
      I was so taken back by the VA’s response to the San Francisco-based Bay Citizen when they (VA officials) said they had no interest in determining causes of death and that they had a ‘handle’ on suicide. Obviously the ‘handle’ pumped a poisonous drink because suicides are increasing each month.
      I read a Tweet sponsored by Starbucks this morning and they listed 10 ways to engage a veteran in conversation. Starbucks has pledged to hire veterans (sorry I don’t remember the number) and while not everyone may not want to be a barrister, I was pleased to see their list of benefits. It seemed a perfect fit for a veteran wanting to use their GI bill and work at the same time.
      Again, thank you Bill for your support. Sheri

      • AZVHV.wordpress.com says:

        Thanks Sheri, I’ll dig up that tweet if i can.

        • Bill – I have a link to it and will send it to you either today or tomorrow. Starbucks sent it to me requesting retweeting. I’m not an active twetter (are there such words as this) but I am an active coffee drinker and they have info from my ‘Gold Card,’ Actually, if you are a coffee drinker – loadable card offers great bargains. It’s still one of the best Christmas presents from last year. Okay – that’s enough about Starbucks. I’ll get the link for you.

          • AZVHV.wordpress.com says:

            Coffee drinker- YES! …isn’t everybody?

            • Bill – I’ve always thought everyone was a coffee drinker until I went to DC and met some of the tea drinkers – what a shock:)
              I’m forwarding the message from Starbucks that was sent to me, to your e-mail. They are all over the place with their support for Veterans, or at least they were yesterday when I was there. Here’s another link from them: Starbucks.com/promo/6-ways-t
              I had to do a follow @Starbucks before I could do a retweet of what I e-mail to you.

              • AZVHV.wordpress.com says:

                Thanks Sheri! You go above and beyond 🙂 I appreciate all your trouble.

                • Never a ‘trouble’ Bill. We are all in this together. I typed in a few links for G.P. on one of his comments last night and it will provide you additional information you might not be aware of on new benefits opening up for Veterans. There’s now registration for Veterans of Vietnam exposed to Agent Orange and now have a host of illnesses and new way to file a claim. There’s also a new register open for Veterans who came into contact with Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve blogged on this before and finally the VA is agreeing these Veterans need a voice. Have a great day Bill and never hesitate to ask if I’ve come across something and hope I can do the same from my end. I’m toasting my first cup of coffee to you this a.m. – Sheri

  13. This is truly shocking and very sad.

  14. A horrifying piece Sheri, particularly at this time of remembrance. It is truly shocking that these veterans don’t get the help that they deserve.

    • Andrea – I couldn’t agree with you more. The American military is supposed to be the strong one, the one that always goes to fight the bad guys and the one with the might to make the bad guys go away. I believe those days are over. Mothers, wife’s, lovers, sisters, daughters, and best friends are sick and tired of sending away to war men full of life, full of hopes and dreams for the future. Then, if the body doesn’t come home in a flag draped coffin, any one of those women who love, easily become a full-time caregiver of worse, they lose the man they love to the worst possible death – suicide. The man they loved came home, but for whatever reason, their love isn’t great enough to keep the man they love alive. Our country has been gutted by our leaders never hesitating before they send our troops into a no-win situation and where we don’t belong in the first place.

  15. Patty B says:

    Staggering statistics – I agree with the one comment on how it is hard to understand how we glorify our service members yet toss them aside, but is it any wonder when our government allows abortions on healthy babies and euthanize our elderly. I always think of our dads friend Jim, even after 40 yrs after his suicide his struggles haunt me. He came back from Korea and ended taking his own life nearly 20 yrs later. Thank Sheri for being his advocate and for the thousands more. One day our voices will be heard joined by the voices of those wounded souls that took thier own lives.

    • Patty – Thank you for stopping and commenting. My best friend’s father-in-law passed this past week and he kept his part in WWII bottled up inside his entire life. Consequently, his grown children never had a real relationship with their father and he kept an invisible net around himself at all times. I had a great uncle in this category but never understood why he was like he was until now. Thanks for stopping in and reading with me.

  16. I’ve tried to understand how a country can glorify the service of a soldier, send him to war, and then turn it’s back on him when / if he returns. Broken or maimed, he is tossed into the corner like an empty canister whose contents have been used up. It’s a wonder men go into service. Surely they have heard stories of short-changing and tight-fisting which awaits their return: abused, used and cast aside. Wrong. Wrong.
    If we don’t watch it, someday we will not have any armed forces.

    • Tess , You’ve indeed said what needs to be said. The way things stand now, only 1% of all eligible members available to serve in the military step forward and volunteer. They come home in shattered bodies and there’s really no place for them to go to get the help they or their families can go to get the immediate help they need. The United States entered into these horrific battles without a thought of how we were to pay for them and how we were going to take care of the veterans they produced. With the advance of modern medicine (and all the big medical schools say more advances in medicine are made during times of war than any other because they see so many different injuries and illnesses come up during those times). I for one wouldn’t wish these tragedies on anyone.
      We have more families trapped in caregiving than at any time in the history of the United States. Many of the caregivers have had to give up their careers to stay home full time and take care of the soldier they love and yes, modern medicine has saved their life but the caregiver has minimum resources to cope with her daily problems. This is one of the issues coming to light in the number of suicides being reported in military families. (I’ll be reporting on that in the future, but it will be awhile). More often than not, the caregiver has children to care for as well and life has changed 150%.
      With the sequester, it will be interesting to see how the war machine marches on as we continue to send more soldiers to Iraq (after the war was declared over, for us at least).

  17. Lignum Draco says:

    Bewildering statistics, Sheri. I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the problem. I thank you for bringing this to the surface.

    By the way, if a death is reported as a suicide, does that negate life insurance policies? That might be another factor why this is under reported.

    • Lingnum – Thank you for reading with me and I always appreciate your comments. Yes, the statistics are staggering and I loved it when the VA made the direct quote ‘they had things under control.’ How arrogant can one organization be?
      A veteran is entitled to the same benefits if he commits suicide or not. The mortician is required by law to ask the family/friend if the individual was a veteran and then the mortician is required to file for the benefits. This always helps with burial benefits and every veteran is entitled to be buried in a veteran’s cemetery. The family may also ask for a grave marker. I encourage anyone, to explore the Federal Benefits for Veterans Dependents and Survivors. The web site for burial and memorial benefits is http://www.cem.va.gov. I just now discovered that my best friend would not have had to pay in a cost share for her father-in-law’s memorial service if they had engaged his VA benefits. He qualified 100%!
      Life insurance policies usually have a suicide clause within the first 2 years and after that, suicide is not a factor in keeping a beneficiary from receiving the benefits. It is no longer legal for life insurance companies to include an exclusionary clause wherein they don’t have to pay if a policy holder is killed in action (war time). During WWII this was a popular catch-all that kept many widows with no money.

  18. atempleton says:

    Thank you, Sheri, for your continued advocacy on this issue. We can’t abandon our veterans, but it seems as if we have.

    • I have those days when I’d like to stop and simply write fiction instead of researching the tough stuff. It hurts. I see these men and women on a daily basis and we’ve truly abandoned them when it’s the result of their defending our country. There’s good things the new Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs proposes but things have been so terribly broken for so many years — it’s going to take hundreds of years to improve and gain the trust of the men and women the agency is to serve. The corruption inside the VA is mind boggling to say the very least.

  19. inesephoto says:

    Sheri – thank you for this heartbreaking post, and for being an advocate for one of the most vulnerable group of citizens.

    • Inese – When our Vietnam vets came home, we treated them as if they had leprosy. We didn’t do much better with our Korean vets and now we have the blood of another 14 years of war on our hands. I keep asking myself, when is enough just enough. When can we stay home and take care of our own infrastructure, our hungry, our uneducated, those without healthcare or adequate housing, mental health, our prisons are so overcrowded we are setting felons free, and I could go on and on. I so want to close our borders (controversial topic at best). I don’t want to grant amnesty to those already here. They came illegally. Send them back home and allow America take care of itself or we will become a third world country.

      • inesephoto says:

        Sheri – I agree with your every word. And I can add that I have my opinion on why the vets are treated this way. All these wars are something that the Government would rather keep in secret if it were possible. When the work is done, those who return would rather be not seen and not heard; then the society can immerse themselves in their daily routine and forget about the wars: why they started and whom they made rich. And it is not only your Government. It is everywhere.

  20. Sheri, some of my family and friends don’t “get it’ that I am still angry over Vietnam. A good friend just took a river cruise on the MaCong Delta. I love her, but I didn’t get that. All I could think of were the river boats that cruised that river with our fighting men during the war.

    There are more than a quarter of a million men that have died and killed themselves over Vietnam. Twice that many who had their lives destroyed. Another friend lost her husband just last year from scrapnel that was trapped in his body and finally caused led poisoning forty years after he was shot during the Tet Offensive.

    The bitterness that some can never let go, the resentment for a government I was taught to trust, the never-ending lists of what our government does not do for its citizens … all this and more. We live in a corporate society and we are nothing more than collateral damage, a loss they are willing to risk for profit.

    • Florence – You know I stand side by side with you on the issue of war. In answering Inese’s comment, one back, you’ll see I too have had enough. The very idea that someone would spend tourism dollars for Vietnam makes me want to throw my coffee mug out my window in anger. However, that would only break my favorite cup plus my office window. Winter’s coming and I’m going to need that window.
      During the time I worked at Fort Ord, JAG, a friend of mine was fighting VA Disability. A recent surgery revealed his stomach housed several pieces of shrapnel. Thankfully the VA didn’t do the surgery and the surgeon saved the shrapnel in a bucket to show Mike when he was awake enough to understand.
      Mike had been in severe pain since coming home from Vietnam but still put in his 20 years. It took 7 years for the VA to declare he was 100% disabled. They turned him down 6 times saying it wasn’t service related. Of course by that time he was dealing with his pain by drinking!

  21. rabbiadar says:

    This tears me up. I am the wife of a veteran (Navy, Vietnam) and I feel angry every time I hear the “thank you for your service” lip-service or cheap talk about “heroes.” The simple fact is, we don’t take care of our vets. I have no use for any politician who talks about it but will spend no political capital on making viable change.

    • Ruth – How well I understand and agree with you. For all the efforts of the new Secretary of The Department of Veteran Affairs, the VA culture will be difficult to alter. I was assigned ‘inside’ the VA my last 18 months of government service and what I saw there forever altered my vision of veteran health care. I believe the new Secretary is doing his best but ‘the best’ of one good man only goes so far. I know all too well just what it takes to fire government employees. There’s nothing like it in the civilian sector. I’ve been in discussions as recent as the past six weeks wherein doctors in private practice tell me they are applying for positions being opened under the new hiring program in the VA. Their reasoning for accepting the positions: the hours they work will be shorter, they will see fewer patients in any given day, they will not have to do any special entries into their physician notes to maximize payment, they’ll have no overhead, the VA is responsible for providing malpractice insurance, chances are they will never be on call and where else can they find 11 paid holidays a year and 3 weeks vacation to start.

  22. diannegray says:

    This is so sad and avoidable, Sheri. Thank you for shedding light on this appauling situation xxx

  23. Thank you, Sheri. It is unconscionable that we as a country do not take care of our veterans’ mental health. Thank you for advocating on behalf of our military members and veterans.

    • Kitt – Thank you for dropping by and reading with me. Lack of mental health is a large part of the picture but we also have veterans committing suicide because they simply cannot stand to live with the pain in their bodies. We send our men and women off to war without a clue of how to assist them when they return home. The magnitude of frustration they face upon seeking help is more often than not so difficult that thousands simply give up and walk away.

      • So then, before we send off our troops, should we train them in basic mental health so that they may proactively understand signs and symptoms of depression and PTSD and help them develop some skills to cope with trauma and physical pain? You are far more an expert than I on such issues. Thank you for your knowledge and for your service to our country and to our service people.

        • Kitt – Excellent questions. I believe first we must have presidential and congressional leadership that understands the value of keeping our country free of engagements wherein we have no business engaging in battle. The 14 years of war we are engaging in has been going on since Biblical times. What makes us think we’re going to solve anything. While I agree there are great humanitarian needs in these countries, we have many of the same needs in our country. We have religions not recognized, men and women brutalized for living a lifestyle that whose to say is right or wrong. While I have my own feelings on the subject, it doesn’t give me the right to cast these individuals into a cave somewhere and allow them to starve or worse. Our government does however allow our children, elderly, the unemployed, the ill and on and on to do without the basic survival elements they need to survive (food, education, shelter, medical care, etc.).
          I’m a huge fan of everyone doing 2 years public service when they reach the age of 18. What a great time this would be to enable leaders to help seek out those individuals that might need additional help, such as mental health counseling or even psychiatric care.
          The elephant in the room: at every military instillation, every battleship, every military function, promotion panel, every VA hospital and clinic, at the Pentagon, and every military place where two individuals gather since the beginning of time and still residing for all to see is the stigma of mental health. If you are in the military and care about your career at all, you DO NOT seek mental health care. Never ever. You do not talk to your minister, to a friend, not a co-worker and certainly not a professional. It’s true today, if you seek mental health care, your career is marked [you are one of those]. Until such time as our nations leaders turn the stigma around and prove to our soldiers that seeking help is not going to destroy a career, I believe we’ll begin to save lives.
          Of course, by the time a service member becomes a veteran, it’s next to impossible to receive help of any kind. It takes an average of 400 days to even register with the VA for health care. Once you register there’s the wait for the initial appointment and treatment plan which may be two years in coming. Remember, there’s been no treatment up to this point. I know from my own experiences of coping with PTSD, I would have taken my own life dozens of times over. I faced this same stigma and the possibility of losing my own job if anyone found out I was seeing both a therapist and a psychiatrist.
          Consider between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some time during the year, it’s a wonder the suicide rate isn’t higher.
          I don’t have facts to back up one thought, but with so many veterans unemployed this leads to a sense of hopelessness and often shame.
          The repeated deployments demanded by limited resources were cruel and unbelievably hard on all soldiers and most importantly those with families. The divorce rate in the military is higher than ever and the suicide rate among family members has never been higher.
          I know I’ve ‘talked’ circles around your question. We must do more than send our troops to the shooting range. Medical journal reports tell us soldiers with routine desk jobs while on deployment are just as likely to commit suicide as soldiers in the field.
          I wish I knew the answer to your question.
          Our leaders not knowing how to lead and think tankers not knowing anything about the military in time of war reminds me of the lack of thought I witnessed first hand during my first job as a civil service employee with the government.
          I was in Germany with my ex-husband and wanted to work so I applied for a position with a dental clinic that treated only troops. I’ll never forget the day when the entire post did a military training exercise wherein ‘everyone’ with the exception of the civilian employees wore protective gear against nerve gas.
          The powers that be had us keep the clinic open and appointments on the books. I kept thinking, why would anyone want dental treatment if taking off their protective gear meant they would die! Sure, this was an exercise, but I believe it’s an excellent example in how the leaders of our nation fail to understand the importance of taking learning experiences seriously.
          Mental health within our military will always carry the burden of stigma. Thank you, Kim, for caring about our service members and veterans. Sheri

  24. kanzensakura says:

    This is quite a powerful post but it doesn’t surprise me. We have treated our veterans disgracefully and disrespectfully, not the least of which was the VA making vets in desperate need of medical/psychiatric care waiting over 400 days. They give us everything and they deserve more.

    • Kanzen, Indeed, our veterans deserve so much more than the citizens of this country are willing to consider, much less provide. We so need to strip away about 95% of the bureaucracy of the VA and then perhaps it could become an agency that understands the American Veteran.

      • kanzensakura says:

        While it is inspiring, it is also heartbreaking that the dead veterans – those killed in action and returned to this country or those who die of disease, old age or some other cause – get more respect and dignity than their living comrades. Like most government, about 75% of beuracracy could be safely stripped away. As an ex-drone for the state, I speak from personal experience. Regulation is one thing, log jam is yet another different and unnecessary burden and expense on the citizens of this country.

  25. A spotlight needs to be shined on this heart-breaker. Thank you, Sheri.

  26. Brilliant and shocking blog, Sheri. Lest We Forget, indeed. That means the living and the dead, surely. We were saddened to be told by our government on November 11, that 100 Australian vets had so far committed suicide since returning from Afghanistan.
    Thank you for giving me pause and thinking about these women and men— the ongoing casualties, after the guns were said to have fallen silent.

    • Barbara – Thanks for reading with me and commenting. Indeed, the guns were said to have been silenced but we are losing more soldiers after they return from war than while they were deployed. Other information I came across while researching this blog you might find interesting: 23-29% of female veterans seeking VA medical care reported experiences of sexual assault within their own chain of command, the risk of women veterans becoming homeless are four times greater than male veterans, and 7% of the nation’s homeless veteran population is comprised of women.

  27. AZVHV.wordpress.com says:

    Those numbers are stunning and inexcusable. Thanks for this post Sheri, it’s a real eye-opener!

  28. ksbeth says:

    this is so sad and thank you for sharing this –

  29. Thank you for giving this the attention it deserves. I see these veterans in my line of work. After hearing their stories, I don’t know how some of them open their eyes every morning. Though I admire, respect and thank our veterans….I don’t think I can comprehend all that they have done for us.

    • How much more can we ask of our veterans? Those that eventually come home from war, still live the war in many ways. I’m not convinced a therapist or other mental health worker can ever understand the true meaning of living a military life unless they have lived in that culture as well. How can they walk into the world of a soldier and honestly understand where that soldier has been and what they’ve lived through. I believe many of these suicides are casualties of the war the soldier survived physically.

  30. A veteran can’t qualify for treatment through the VA without establishing that their depression, PTSD, etc. is service connected. This is a long complicated bureaucratic process in which the default response is to deny problems are service connected.

    Once a vet qualifies for service connection, there are long waiting lists for treatment – which have been well-publicized.

    What’s even more scarey are Republican proposals to privatize VA hospitals and allow for-profit health corporations to run them: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/05/20/1300760/-Privatizing-VA-health-care-would-be-the-greatest-tragedy-of-all#

    About 20 years ago, they privatized health care for DOD employees active duty GIs and their families by replacing the publicly funded CHAMPUS program with a private insurance company called Tricare. The alleged justification for this move was to “save money.” Meanwhile Tricare rakes in immense profits by denying medical services to sick people who need them.

    • I’m intimately familiar with the inadequacies of Tricare and it’s the reason I continue my own insurance through my federal employment. The cost of my BC/BS increases each year and in 2015 it will be over $500/month. I still consider that a bargain even if Medicare does get in the way. The only reason we have Medicare Part B is that’s the only way we can keep Tricare for Life. The only thing Tricare for Life pays for is our pharmacy deductible.
      With that being said, CHAMPUS wasn’t any better than Tricare. The mountains of paperwork required for any procedure was enough to keep someone from seeking treatment. Obtaining psychiatric coverage was out of the question.
      CHAMPUS and Tricare both contributed to mental health care becoming a cash business for many individuals.
      The VA has made so many of it’s own problems through the years. Due to its very size it’s going to be difficult to implement standardized change. In my 20 years gov. service, I found the VA the most difficult agency to work with and the agency that needed help the most.
      Many veterans have gotten the run around about their depression, PTSD, lingering results of TBIs and the results of being around Burn Pits. Just recently an announcement appeared wherein any veteran exposed to the Burn Pits should register with the VA. Additionally, anyone that served in Vietnam and now has diabetes is also eligible for additional benefits. A new registration process is available for those veterans.
      I followed the medical discharge sham at Madigan when all soldiers were automatically denied based on PTSD at the direction of the hospital commander. These cases have since been reclassified appropriately but I wonder how many other locations followed the formula and weren’t caught.
      Having fought depression and PTSD myself, I cannot imagine how horrific our veterans feel when those who are directed to help them become yet another enemy.
      Thankfully my husband doesn’t use the VA for much but they offer state of the art hearing aids and hearing is a service-connected injury for him. The reason I bring it up is that he is assigned to a satellite clinic for this service. The center is maybe 2 years old, beautiful red brick exterior with professional landscaping, the number of staff to patient appears 4 to 1 at any time we’ve been there, there’s never a wait, and most of the time the parking lot is empty.
      Thank you for your observations of the VA health-care system.

  31. Terry says:

    That was very interesting. I had no idea about the suicides. I was aware that VA and the VA hospitals are not truly there for the vet. It is such a sad story as many were drafted and did their best, but our thanks is letting them sit somewhere in a dark hole

  32. gpcox says:

    This is a topic very close to your heart and I know how much talking about the subject costs you, Sheri. You have been working on the programs that I believe are best for them and I know you will never stop trying to save each and every one of them. You are a hero yourself!

    • G.P. – Shame on me. How could I miss responding to your comment. Honest, this Kansas farm girl does know how to say thank you for your continuing support. I was rolling through the comments as I had several to complete today and there you were. You make my work with the veterans what it is today.
      Have you seen the new open announcements for Vietnam Veterans who have diabetes? You are so well connected with Veterans I know you reach many more than I do. Also, there’s now a register for Veterans who were exposed to Burn Pits in Afghanistan and Iraq. If you haven’t had these links and would like them – please let me know and I’ll send them your way. TX Sheri

      • gpcox says:

        Yes, I would like the veteran links, Sheri – anything I can do to help!
        [and that missing the comment thing – it’s easy to do, I’ve done it more than once myself – even located people in the Spam that I needed to yank out and answer – shhh – keep that one under your hat – I wouldn’t want the other bloggers to know how old and dilapidated I am 😉 )

        • Has anyone ever cleaned off a table where you’ve been working and scrambled your stacks? I’ve been into serious pile management all my life and can put my fingers on most anything I want. Of course it always drove my staff crazy and then when I arrived in DC – it drove everyone that entered my office crazy because everyone wanted to know if their name was on a folder in my carefully orchestrated piles. (Gee that was indeed the good old days).
          Okay, enough about me and my piles. I still need to come up with more info for you and will copy my pages of whatever the links won’t pull up for you (I print out everything). The VA likes to make announcements but then if you don’t follow their news release notices, no one has a clue as to what is going on.
          In a VA New Release dated Sept. 24. 2014 titled ‘VA Updates Disability Claims Application Process for Veterans, Survivors’ speaks to the new uniformed disability claims process which is automatic and the claim can be submitted electronically and is to be much more user friendly. This information came from the Office of Public Affairs Media Relations at http://www.va.gov. I hope with the date of the release you are able to pull it up. If not, let me know and I’ll make you a copy and mail it.
          In 2000 only 38,000 veterans from all war eras were receiving disability compensation for diabetes. By last year, 320,000 veterans from the Vietnam War alone drew diabetes-related compensation. The list of diseases presumed caused by Agent Orange includes ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and certain types of leukemia. By June of last year, that decision led the VA to processing 280,000 claims for the newly presumptive ailments and to make $4.5 billion in retroactive disability payments.
          The above statistics were prepared by Tom Philpot, one of the most highly respected reporters journalist covering Veteran Affairs and surrounding benefits and fallout. A link I gather much of my benefits for veterans from is http://militaryadvantage.military.com.
          And now – drum roll please – a subject near and dear to my heart – Burn Pits. I have two previous blogs on this subject and short of hitting congressional members over the head with my baseball bat (I can’t say that can I) we now have a Burn Pit Registry for Veterans who served near and around burn pits. I’ll be blogging on these deadly beast again but in the meantime we must get our veterans registered. http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2014/October/Burn-pit-exposure-Signup-now-in-VA-Registry.asp#top.
          G.P. – Now that I’ve written this, I realize I should have put it in an e-mail to you but on the other hand, if someone else reads it, maybe it will help them or someone they love also.
          BTW – Your friend Bill from Arizona is joining me in following Starbucks on Twitter. They are supporting Veterans in a big way and even offering ways to help veterans. Starbucks.com/promo/6-ways-t Thank you G.P. for all that you do. Sheri

          • gpcox says:

            I am happier that you put this in the comments, like you say – more people will see it. I checked out each link (they work) and I’ve printed out the links. I try to advertise things like this on other sites I come across – so many of them have no idea of what’s available.
            Say Hi to Bill, sorry I don’t have a Twitter account, but with you 2 on the job – everything is well in hand!!! I appreciate you going to the trouble for me and give my best to Tom!!

  33. My brother was a Vietnam vet. He had a metal plate in his head that got him discharged. He ended up with MS. He was 39 and his bp was 360/180 he hemorrhaged. After a week in a coma he died. When Iwas cleaning his room I found bottles and bottles of bp meds. I believe it was suicide.

  34. billgncs says:

    My dad was in the Normandy invasion at 19, and on his Higgens boat of 49 men including his best friend, he was the only one who made it to shore. He had huge survivor’s guilt, that we never understood until after his death in 1975, throughout his whole life that I knew him, he never had another close friend.

  35. Elyse says:

    It’s important, Today of all days, to remember everybody. And many of these are still folks that can still be helped.

  36. Thank you, Sheri. I needed to read this today. It brings to light how very, very much each veteran sacrificed by going to war for the rest of us. It is so sad, I could cry. But we all need to hear this and read this and be aware of it. The stats for getting help and getting “into” the VA system for medical assistance are appallingly low and sickeningly inadequate. I’m sure they probably have some sort of oversight committee and, if so, what the heck are they doing about this? Obviously nothing. This makes me hate the U.S. government.

    • Patti – The Department of Veterans Affairs is broken, the same as many other departments within our government. I’m a firm believer that the VA needs to be completely over hauled and I don’t have a problem with contracting out the entire operation. The inefficiency must change and again, I’m not sure sending veterans to private practitioners would help either. I do know our veterans deserve better.

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