The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Reaction to VA’s Suicide Report

Last week, VA released its first report on veterans’ suicide since 2010. The new report estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day – a 22 percent jump from 2010. To learn more about the report, click here.

For the first time, the report included detailed data from states, making the VA’s estimate more accurate than in the past. Unfortunately, the report only served to confirm growing concerns for the VFW about veterans’ access to quality mental health care and the negative stigma associated with seeking treatment for mental health conditions.

Last year, VA reported to Congress that it intends to hire an additional 1,600 mental health care practitioners in the coming year, though plans on how VA intends to accomplish this have not been drawn up.

Unfortunately, even with additional personnel, the negative stigma associated with seeking treatment persists among the public, veterans and within the ranks of the military. Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane penned an article this week that finally tackled how the public and general news outlets tend to misunderstand PTSD and other combat-related mental health conditions – possibly driving veterans away from much-needed treatment.

In his story, Shane finally refutes the “crazy veteran” stereotype and lays out how PTSD often manifests itself through isolation and is not directly correlated to violent outbursts, as many who do not fully understand mental health assume. Read Shane’s piece by clicking here.

But there’s more at play with the negative public stigma. Speaking up about your feelings is contradictory to what we teach service members in the military. Recruits are told to “suck it up, drive on, ” and at times, this attitude is mission-critical. If you’re shot in a firefight, you need to still be able to suppress your attackers and either take your objective or evacuate your teammates from the killzone. When the bullets stop flying, that’s when you can take care of any injuries.

Unfortunately, military training encourages bravado and a sense of invincibility, and associates mental obstacles with weakness. As a result, many in the military cannot correlate mental injuries like PTSD to physical injuries like a gunshot wound, when many times both can be equally detrimental to military readiness and mission effectiveness.

Proper treatment for the mental injuries of war starts with military leaders who can recognize the symptoms of these conditions just as easily as they can recognize bullet holes, broken bones or missing limbs, and can encourage their troops to treat the condition as they would any other illness or injury. The military is slowly recognizing this, and some leaders are evolving, but old habits die hard.

But even if we change the command climate toward mental health and change the public discourse on PTSD, veterans still may not seek out help (see: bravado, invincibility, weakness, old habits die hard…). This is why peer mentoring needs to remain a top priority.

The VFW is no stranger to the model of peer mentoring. In fact, it is the underlying principle behind VFW canteens and VFW posts. When veterans returned from prior conflicts, they needed to find a sanctuary of like-minded individuals to whom they could relate. VFW posts served that function. Regardless of age differences, veterans could always count on a sympathetic ear who understood the challenges that come with combat exposure and could offer sound advice on how to adapt and overcome in civilian life.

In a digital world, the way peer mentoring resources are delivered has shifted. VFW posts still offer a physical safe haven for many veterans, but others who still may be leery to discuss their combat experiences openly also need places to go, either online or over the phone, where they can speak to someone who understands them. One such program that leverages technology to offer peer assistance is the Vets4Warriors program. Last year, the VFW called on Congress to provide additional funding for programs like Vets4Warriors, and Congress listened. However, Vets4Warriors remains a fledgling program, and more innovation is needed in the digital space to help veterans overcome combat-related mental health issues.

The VFW was saddened by the VA’s report on suicide, but we hope it serves as a wake-up call for the nation and how we address military mental health. In the next two years, our military plans to be out of Afghanistan and the active duty force is set to contract. The Pentagon, VA, Congress and the veterans’ community need to act now to make sure we can meet the needs of our veterans as they come home. It is unacceptable that our nation loses more heroes on the homefront than we lose on the battlefield.

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  1. The VA is always going to do something, to make everything better, for all Veterans, but never seems to follow through. This falls in line with Approximately 95 % of all of our Senators and Congressional Rep's. On all of the Veterans Holidays, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Ect;, Ect;, they get up on their soap boxes and Give Praise after Praise to all Veterans. Once they get back to work in Washington DC, their greatest expectations go out the door, they breath a sign of relief and say : Okay, Now what can we take away from Active Duty Veterans, Retired Veterans, and Senior Citizens today, to give us more money to spend. They never try to save money by doing away with Pork Barrel Spending, or stop giving free benefits to the Illegal Aliens that come across the Border. How about removing Billions of Dollars from the Foreign Aid Programs and pay back the Dollars that was "Borrowed" or "Robbed" from the Social Security System. Stop flying Air Force One, a few hundred miles cross Country, for Campaign Dollars. Use those Campaign Dollars to replace Tax Payer Dollars in the Treasury, that the Campaigner In Chief wants to spend on High Dollar Campaign Parties for more Campaignj Dollars. Round and Round he goes and still wants more Tax Dollars to waste on his Union Buddies. I think I might have got off track along there somewhere, but I am damn well P.O'd that ALL of our Politicians want to Balance the damned Budget on the Backs of ALL Veterans and Senior Citizens. These same damned General Officers in the Pentagon could cut some of their "FAT" out of their Budgets also. Cut some of their "PET PROJECTS" monies and leave Veterans and Senior Citizens Benefits alone. Thank you for your time. TSgt., USAF Retired.

  2. Sadly the VFW along with other vet organizations lack a full understanding of this dibilitating disability. Proof is in the support provided to pass what became PL 112-154 (see and read section 109). Then we have the Army Surgeon General's memo (see MEDCOM memo 12-0005). Finally we have the VA Final decision (go to link: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2012/09/05/2012-21784/service-dogs). After all this we then read regular reports of like this link: http://www.dvidshub.net/video/280484/dog-eases-deployment-stress and many others which attest to benefits being denied. The VFW is correct about one thing and that is the benefits of PEER mentoring. Problem is how do you go shopping or travel in public without a peer? Denying any benefit is WRONG.

  3. Sadly, our "leaders" believe that writing another blank check to the VA is the solution to the Veteran ?problem." The VA has never lacked for finances, it has lacked for effective solutions to the "problem" that the Veteran must endure. The actual relationship (and "the" problem) between the Veteran and the VA is adversarial. The first order of business is denial by the VA which is actually and primarily a Federal Bureaucracy whose prime function is to provide a secure paycheck to a mediocre and disconnected work force.


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