WARNING: This post contains spoilers from Season 2 Episode 19.
This week, SEAL Team tackled one of the most dangerous threats to military veterans: suicide.
U.S. veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians — and the number is staggeringly higher among female veterans. According to a 2016 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs, on average 20.8 service members commit suicide every day; of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active duty, guardsmen, or reservists.
Since 2001, the total number of fatal casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan is 6,995.
There were more than 6000 veteran suicides each year from 2008-2016 alone.
It's a critical threat, one that must be acknowledged and addressed — which is why it's important that shows like SEAL Team tell their stories.
According to 'former frogman' and SEAL Team writer Mark Semos, the suicide in the episode 'Medicate and Isolate' was inspired by the death of a real U.S. Navy SEAL.
In the episode, Brett Swann (played perfectly by Tony Curran) struggles with many issues that are common among veterans — and he's lucky enough to have a buddy helping him navigate the labyrinth of the VA system: long waits, over-taxed doctors, and confusing procedures are among the basics of what can be expected.
Swann is certain he has an undiagnosed TBI (traumatic brain injury) but the VA doctor is unable to treat it because there's no proof that it is service-connected. A 45-minute episode isn't long enough to get into the details of Swann's options, so the writers deftly cut to the finish: Swann wasn't going to get the treatment he desperately needed. Certainly not right away.
I can't communicate strongly enough how disorienting and discouraging it is to finally seek help only to be turned away, especially for veterans, who were trained by the military to "suck it up."
Some get lucky and find advocates (I highly recommend the DAV, a non-profit that, among other initiatives, helps veterans with disability claims), some patiently wade through the murky system, but others...
...well, it's becoming painfully clear that others give up hope.
For a country that spends more on its defense budget than the next seven countries combined (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan), it reflects the DOD's priorities when VA hospitals and facilities don't have the funds to meet the staffing and medical needs of its veterans.
There is hope
I have seen a trend where veterans are coming together to support each other, to maintain the strong community we had during service. As more and more veterans lose friends, the fear of talking about suicide is diminishing.
This is critical because veterans have to know where to turn for help.
There is a crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (or anyone in need can send a text message to 838255)
There are organizations like 22KILL, which raises awareness and combats suicide by empowering veterans, first responders, and their families through traditional and non-traditional therapies.
And there are shows and films depicting these stories, raising awareness, and removing the stigma of unseen injuries and mental health.
There are many who are wary of sending the message that veterans are all traumatized or unstable; if anything, this episode is further proof of the opposite. SEAL Team employs a lot of veterans who are professionals in the entertainment industry.
Who better to tell the story of those among us who need our help?
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