- WARNING: This post contains language about suicide.
- “How has serving impacted you?” – that was a question put forth by the US Army’s Twitter account.
- The tweet was threaded below another with a video of Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a scout with the Army’s First Infantry Division explaining how the Army has “influenced his life” in a positive way.
- The other replies to the US Army’s question were varied and some highlighted the issue of veterans committing suicide.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (Veterans, press 1) for 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress and suicidal in the US.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
“How has serving impacted you?” – that was a question put forth by the US Army’s Twitter account.
The tweet was threaded below another with a video of Pfc. Nathan Spencer, a scout with the Army’s First Infantry Division explaining how the Army has “influenced his life” in a positive way.
The replies below the question, however, are were varied: some acknowledge life-long friendships, while others share gutting stories of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), difficulties with the Veterans Administration, or loved ones they lost to suicide.
My cousin was institutionalized for months after his tours in Iraq. He can't function properly without a shit load of meds daily. The family doesn't allow him to sleep in the house because he is unpredictable. He sleeps in the shed out back. He has a nice Benz though sooo, yay?????????♂️
— Tallsome Lee ???????? (@leinova) May 24, 2019
The respondents, too, were mixed: Some appeared to be civilians talking about loved ones who served, others said they were veterans discussing their experience, and others just dropped in to offer a GIF.
The Army responded with a series of tweets on Saturday.
“To everyone who responded to this thread, thank you for sharing your story,” the Army wrote. “Your stories are real, they matter, and they may help others in similar situations. The Army is committed to the health, safety, and well-being of our Soldiers.”
“As we honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice this weekend by remembering their service, we are also mindful of the fact that we have to take care of those who come back home with scars we can’t see.” the tweets continued. “If you or someone you know is in need of help, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 (and press 1 to talk to someone NOW or visit veteranscrisisline.net.”
Business Insider cannot confirm the deluge of responses to the tweet, over four thousand at the time of writing.
However, as a whole, they speak to a broader issue of taking care of veterans, the epidemic of veteran suicide, and the sacrifices that those who join the US Armed Services make – just ahead of Memorial Day Weekend when Americans honour those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and at the end of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month.
“Given me memories of twelve Soldiers who chose suicide, three killed in preventable rollovers, another dozen sexually assaulted, and lots of people and families broken by immoral acts in a war that won’t end,” Bill Cork, whose Twitter bio describes him as “chaplain (former Army),” said in a tweeted response to the Army. And he was not alone in documenting veteran suicides.
The VA National Suicide Data Report 2005-2016 “compares Veteran and non-Veteran suicide rates, describes suicide rates among populations with established and emerging risk factors, and assesses the differences in suicide rates among Veterans who use and do not use VHA services.”
In 2016 the suicide rate for veterans was 30.1 per 100,000, compared to the general population’s rate of 13.4 per 100,000. The rate for veterans ages 18 to 34 was even higher: “45 suicide deaths per 100,000,” the VA reported.
Over, all the VA said in its report, “there were more than 6,000 Veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016.”
“We are not even at the Sputnik stage of understanding problems with mental health,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, told The New York Times. “I have said this is the No. 1 clinical priority that is made manifest by the president putting VA as the lead for this national task force.”
A major issue is that 70% of veterans don’t use the VA, The Times said, possibly due to issues at the department (leadership problems under the Trump administration and the ongoing issue of delayed access to care), which some of the Twitter respondents highlighted.
The suicide epidemic is not lost on lawmakers.
“High rates of homelessness, traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and a military culture that can be resistant to seeking help are all aggravating factors for veterans, whose rates of suicide have been the subject of numerous hearings on Capitol Hill,” The New York Times reported in April.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump, who often spoke about veteran suicide during campaign rallies, began a task force to address the issue.
The Department of Veterans Affairs did not immediately respond to comment for this story.
Update: This story was updated with the statement from the US Army.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 (Veterans, press 1) for 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress and suicidal in the US. S
end a text message to 838255, or chat online.
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