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Respawn: Reactions to the latest data on Veteran Suicide

The Military Times posted an article this past week about new data that was recently released by the Department of Veterans Affairs that cited a figure for veteran suicide that is different than the 22 that has been referenced often in Social Media and in the news. The new data that pulls numbers from 2014 says that 7,400 took their own lives. This puts the new number at roughly 20 suicides a day.

The discussion of veteran suicide has had a lot of play lately in the news and different media outlets. I’ve been looking for a good moment to put my thoughts down about it all. I’m not sure that the majority of the public really understands the actual issues we’re dealing with here in regards to factual data and the mental health disorders that contribute to these losses. There are a lot of common misconceptions that I hear thrown around without knowing the actual data and issues that surround it all.

So what was the deal about 22 and why is it significant? The biggest issue for me with it is the same issue that I

VA officials said in a statement that the information from a new report on veteran suicide rates will allow them to “inform our suicide prevention programs and policies, especially for groups at elevated risk for suicide, including older and female veterans.” (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)

have with a lot of data that people use. We’re a culture that will latch on to a number or statistic as it applies to the situation in the way we want it to without knowing the whole story behind it. The problem with 22 specifically is that the number was assigned with somewhat of a blurry lens. As noted in the Military Times article, the data was based on information from only about 20 states and did not contain full military records from the Defense Department. As 22 could be a number that reflects a rough estimate of veteran suicide, it’s somewhat suspect when it comes to having a solid foundation with thorough research. I personally wouldn’t want to throw it around without having input from more than half of the United States. This new study does in fact have data from each state and which includes records from over 50 million veterans.

When we hear that 22 (or now 20) veterans take their lives each day, our gut reaction is to think that the majority of them would be combat vets from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reality is, however, that around 65 percent of these suicides are individuals who were 50 years or older. In addition to that, many of them spent little to no time fighting in the recent wars. Why does that matter? It doesn’t except for the fact that you should know it. Military life is incredibly hard to explain to civilians in a way that makes sense. As humans, we try to visualize how we would handle hardship or difficult situations when it was presented to us. Our brains tell us the right answer objectively but it doesn’t translate to our subjective lives.

I have only been out of the service for a few months now and find it challenging to find who I am in the civilian world. Do I matter anymore? Am I less worthwhile now that I don’t wear the uniform? These are a lot of the questions we face when we lose that identity. As an occupational therapist, my business is to re-engage people into their previous roles and lives. We do that through both physical and mental strengthening. We have to be better as a community. Our number one priority here at Operation Supply Drop is to do just that. We’re fighting to make lives better and to give people hope in a place where they can’t find it. All the branches of the Military have addressed veteran suicide in their own ways that include prevention, identification, and support. This is a good step but somewhat of a blanket way to address the majority of people. The best solution though is you. We’re all so different and need individual things to keep us in the fight. My hope is that we see and understand what that means to sustain a strong and solid future for our veterans. Invest time in the people who are in your lives. Help build strong communities and find ways to keep engaged.

If you personally need support or would like to help other veterans where you live get Get Involved with Operation Supply Drop and “Make it Count!”

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