At No Fallen Heroes we have dedicated ourselves to the prevention of suicide by veterans. We have found and wishful thinking and political spin do not do the job. In this vein we were disappointed recently to learn that several Republicans voted against a measure to fund health care for veterans who were exposed to burning trash pits on overseas tours. Until just a few years ago the military burned plastic, human feces, paint, medical waste, chemicals, ammunition and unexploded artillery, food, wood, rubber, aluminum cans, Styrofoam, and petroleum/other lubricants. The bottom line is that the fumes from these burn pits were toxic and resulted in various medical ailments including cancer. Senator Ted Cruz was quoted as saying that bill only had to do with Democrats spending more money. We bring this up because it feels familiar from what we have seen in how Congress votes to send us to war and then forgets about us when we come home wounded.
The State of Veteran Suicide in America
In 2019 the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report noted that veterans commit suicide at a rate fifty percent greater than non-veterans. More than six thousand vets a year kill themselves. While veterans make up 7.9% of the US population, they account for 13.5% of all suicides. Following the 2019 report an executive order funneled money to local and state agencies to help identify veterans at risk for depression, PTSD, and suicide and to find means of intervention. The most recent initiatives from the White House under the current administration include increasing lethal means safety, enhancing crisis care and facilitating care transitions, increasing access to and delivery of effective care, addressing factors that increase the risk of suicide such as legal issues, unemployment, food insecurity, lack of housing, and financial strain, and improving coordination in research into the causes and possible means of prevention of veteran suicide.
New Approaches Where Old Approaches Have Failed
Something that we are excited about at No Fallen Heroes is the use of psychedelic medicines to treat severe depression and PTSD. Both of these conditions are more common in veterans than the general population and both, along with traumatic brain syndrome, are factors that increase the risk of suicide. In this regard we were especially pleased to see that legislation has been introduced in the US Senate, the Right to Try Act, that would legalize the use of psilocybin and MDMA for the treatment of PTSD and severe depression. What is exceptional is that far left Democrats and far right Republicans are both signed on to this effort. Unlike with the use of psychedelics for recreational use this approach would use pharmaceutical grade drugs in appropriate dosages, free of impurities, and limit the use to therapeutic situations where these drugs have been shown to facilitate talk therapy which brings old trauma to the present and helps the veteran reexamine it in a non-fearful state.
Isolation Is a Major Factor in Veteran Suicide
If you know a vet who is having troubles, talk to them, see if you can help them out, and help keep them from feeling alone and isolated. The military teaches us to be tough and to endure difficulties. While that approach works when someone is in the military and surrounded by like minded people devoted to the same set of tasks it may not work when the vet is in civilian life with no platoon buddies to bounce things off of. Vets too often see admission of difficulties as weakness and to be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately this leads to suicidal thinking with no one to help maintain an accurate memory of the past and rational view of the present. Sometimes the best thing you can do to help prevent veteran suicide is to take the time to talk to a vet.