In the military, we had such a strong bond with those with whom we served. From day one in uniform, we had a battle buddy by our side. The closeness we had with our brothers and sisters is not something for those that didn’t serve to easily understand. Would your current co-workers pull ticks out for you from near your anus? Yeah, that actually happened to me … Thanks Mac, that’s what we call close! Do you think the people you work with now would run into gunfire for you?
We leave that family and often, many feel alone. This feeling is natural because being out of uniform is different from still serving. However, it’s what every veteran goes through as they leave their service. We may not talk about it at parties, but it’s as real as anything else in the world. This feeling can’t be ignored, but must be addressed.
It’s no secret that we have a suicide problem in the U.S. and even more profound in our veteran community. It’s a sad reality that we’ve lost more to suicide — over 108,000 — than combat during the Global War on Terror. Most of us know a brother or sister who’s taken their life after losing their personal battle at home. We can never eliminate the crisis, but we can certainly limit the amount who are overcome by their demons.
According to Stop Soldier Suicide, a nonprofit focused on reducing the number of service members and veterans lost to suicide, veterans are at a 50 percent higher risk of suicide than those who didn’t serve. By 2030, the number of veteran suicides will be 23 times higher than post 9/11 combat deaths. There has been a 93 percent increase in the suicide rate of male veterans aged 18 to 34.
I applaud people bringing attention to the issue through different methods. It may be doing 22 pushups a day, talking about why they served for 21 days or, I’ve also seen other messages and posts on social media raising awareness about the problem. We know there’s a problem, but I’m more for doing what Non-Commissioned Officers always do: Identify the problem, develop solutions and implement change.
Let’s be more proactive.
While serving, we saw our teammates every day. We were able to witness signs that they may be struggling. Being around each other so much, we could see if their behaviors changed, if they were down, if they showed the signs of depression and if they needed help. These checks are more difficult when we’re out of the military.
One of my favorite quotes: “You don’t need to have a patch on your arm to have honor.” – LT Kaffee at the end of A Few Good Men.
I’m challenging you to do one thing: pick up the phone and call someone you served with. Check on them. Ask them how they’re doing and listen. This is not a time to bullshit around the topic – ask them if they’re doing ok. How are they handling being out of uniform? Bring up the fact that it’s different and you feel the difference, too. We know how to accomplish tough tasks — this should be easier because of the love we have for those we served with. Have a real talk, reconnect and you may help someone suffering silently.
It’s not easy for people to acknowledge they’re having problems; generally, it’s not our veteran way. It’s not a disorder and we’re not broken. If we look out for each other and remove the stigma, we can mitigate the risks. Let’s show our love for our brothers and sisters. If you need help, reach out. And, reach out to others and do a buddy check.