Veterans Deserve Better

I started out writing this blog on a positive note. I wanted to discuss Veterans Treatment Courts (VTC’s). I wanted to highlight how helpful VTC’s are because they bring together resources that a veteran would otherwise not reach out to or know about. I wanted to talk about how these VTC’s actually work to “cure” criminal behavior by cutting through the symptoms and addressing the underlying causes. I wanted to point out the low recidivism rate of these treatment courts. And then I did my background research regarding veterans and mental health. As a veteran, I knew the numbers were bad. I knew that America was sending its best and brightest off to fight in two wars that it lacked the resolve to commit to. I knew my brothers and sisters were returning home with hidden injuries. I didn’t realize how bad the situation was. At this point, the focus of this article will be just to highlight some of the astounding numbers in order to raise your awareness level.

We should first talk about suicide. Twenty-two veterans a DAY commit suicide. Let that number soak in for a minute. Approximately every hour a veteran takes his or her own life. Think about that next time you are sitting around in class, watching the clock tick down. And this number is probably severely under representative of the true number of veterans that take their life on a daily basis because a few large states aren’t included in this report (California and Illinois). I don’t have some deep analysis about why this is happening. I’m not here to analysis the way the VA and the Armed Services are attempting to combat this epidemic. I’m only letting you know it is an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. The most powerful country in the world should not ask its citizens to serve in its defense and then allow this to occur.

The numbers for other problems aren’t any prettier. Some studies estimate that one in three veterans returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from either Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression. A RAND Corporation study, published in 2008, looked at 1.6 million veterans since 2001 and concluded that forty-seven percent of veterans returned home from Iraq or Afghanistan with either PTSD, depression, or a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The study went on to mention that a lot of veterans returning home had various combinations of the above mentioned conditions. Additionally, twenty-percent of veterans turn to heavy drug or alcohol use when they return home. Between 2005 and 2006, the number of veterans still in the Army that were involved in an alcohol related incident exploded from 1.73 per 1,000 soldiers to 5.71 per 1,000 soldiers.

I devoted this whole article to the numbers because I think just including a paragraph or two in a larger article on VTC’s would sell the problem short. This is a legitimate crisis, and with the wars winding down, many veterans are leaving the military support structure and reentering the civilian world. When I talk about VTC’s and their importance in a later blog post, it is important to comprehend the sheer enormity of the problem that society and civilian courts will face in dealing with a segment of the population that sustained these hidden wounds while serving their country. Veterans don’t need fancy beer commercials. They don’t need you to stand at a baseball or football game when the national anthem is played and they don’t need you to stand up and clap when a veteran is honored at a sporting event. They need contributions to programs like VTC’s, job training programs or other reintegration programs.