By Colonel Bob Notch, U.S. Army (Ret.)
On any given day, approximately 20 veterans in our country commit suicide. Think about that – 20 sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, or husbands and wives who took an oath to serve the United States decide take their own lives because they don’t have any hope – or help – to continue living.
Now there’s help – and hope – on the way. A $3.5 million research initiative into veteran suicides, led by America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP), marks the newest significant effort to assist in preventing veteran suicides. By identifying local-level risk factors that lead to veteran suicides and then creating a holistic plan to prevent them, local communities may then be empowered to spot early warnings and disarm them.
That’s the goal, and it’s much needed. Consider these sobering statistics from the 2016 Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans report put out by Department of Veterans Affairs: women who served in the military are 2.4 times more likely to take their own lives than women who didn’t, while the suicide rate for men who served is 19% higher than for those who did not. And roughly two-thirds of all veterans who killed themselves were at least 50-years old.
If we’re going to stop these tragedies, we need attention and effort towards research, identification of triggers, and the active involvement of local support networks. While the VA’s Suicide report tells us a lot about which percentage of veterans commit suicide and what means they use to take their lives, it’s lacking in recommendations on how to prevent suicides. I’m hopeful the America’s Warrior Partnership study provides meaningful insights on how to identify those at risk and how to save them.
One of the keys in this study will be AWP’s model for veteran empowerment, which centers on local-level support networks using a community integration approach of locating veterans in an area and connecting them to support each other. I strongly believe in this team concept and believe it is working to support military, veterans and their families in communities across the country. My own organization has invested in this networking concept to better connect public, private and non-profit organizations in the Greater Boston area for a lofty, yet critical goal: being a one-stop network hub of services for veterans and their families.
Veterans grew in the military knowing that it takes a team to be successful. We all need a team of our own – family, friends, coworkers – to lead happy and healthy lives; it’s also a key ingredient to reducing suicides for veterans and all Americans.
Service members work hard to ensure they are prepared to handle our nation’s call, and now it’s time for the nation to answer the call of veterans in need of help, veterans in danger of ending their lives. They were assets when they served and they remain assets as veterans. It’s time to heed the battlefield creed and use it at home – let’s not leave anyone behind.
Bob Notch served in the Army for 27 years and was the former program development officer for Brighton Marine.