Our armed services are full of brave men and women who go into battle after having signed a blank check. For some, the amount they sacrifice is measured in numbers. For others, it is measured with their life. One of the saddest things about that check is that it seems to extend far outside the boundaries of combat. For many veterans, the wounds they receive fall into both categories, physical and invisible. Many deal with the daily physical limitations that often accompany bad knees, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD. And then you have “the 22”.
Who Are “The 22”?
The Department of Veterans Affairs performed a study concerning veterans and suicide. They claim that 22 veterans commit suicide every day. While others may dispute those numbers, the fact remains that even one veteran suicide that can be attributed to being in the military or experiencing battle is unacceptable. It is the invisible wounds that these warriors carry that many people don’t, and can’t, understand. Even though people try to understand what some veterans go through, unless they have been on the firing line or seen some of the darker aspects of war, they can’t fully comprehend what is going on inside the mind of a war-seasoned veteran.
The bad hips, knees, and ankles that an Airborne veteran endures are physical reminders, as are the traumatic brain injuries that are often attributed to being a gunner or dealing with explosives. Some veterans come home with prosthetic limbs and a long-term recovery in front of them. Others may come home physically intact, but have memories or experiences that haunt their every waking moment. These experiences navigate through their dreams like a knife through butter and no matter what they do or where they go, there is no place to truly hide. It is the invisible wounds that no one sees that take the highest toll. It is these wounds in particular that shape the patterns associated with the 22.
Recognizing the Signs of Suicide
Many veterans who are contemplating suicide show no signs at all. They don’t talk about their feelings and are reluctant to discuss their experiences. Others may experience signs of depression that just seem to get worst or tend to linger for long periods of time. A few other signs include:
- Recurring anxiety or panic attacks
- Inability to sleep
- Reluctance to seek treatment
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Feelings of hopelessness or concerns that they may be burdening their loved ones
- Giving away their belongings or starting to hoard ammunition
- Becoming less and less interested in spending time with friends or family
When PTSD, depression, or any other type of mental illness that can be associated with military service or TBI’s begin to affect a veteran’s quality of life, it’s important to show them you care. Encourage them to seek treatment without adding to their stress. If you are a veteran, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There are people who love you and others just like you who are experiencing many of the same symptoms and chronic illnesses/disabilities that you are. Reach out and get the assistance you need. In turn, you may another veteran’s saving grace.
What You Can Do
As a spouse, family member, or friend, the best things you can do for a veteran you love is to be observant and be available. Let them know you are there. Assure them of their value. Ask them to spend time with you. While you can’t force them to do anything, you can give the reassurance that their service was appreciated and that their needs are not to be minimized. Offer to go with them to their VA appointments and talk to their doctors when necessary. Offer to help them with their medications and to make sure their mental, emotional, and physical needs are being met. Encourage them to reach out to others, not solely to help themselves but to help others who may need a friend who truly knows what they are going through.
Organizations That Can Help
Veterans who are in distress often don’t know where to turn for assistance. The number of homeless veterans in the United States continues to grow at a staggering rate. There are many organizations available who offer services to veterans. They include:
- 90 Works – Offers assistance to homeless veterans by helping them find a place to live and gain steady employment. They can be reached at 1-855-90WORKS or www.90works.gov.
- Veterans Crisis Line – Call 1-800-273-8255 press 1. Chat confidentially at VeteransCrisisLine.net or text 838255 on your mobile phone.
- National Center for PTSD – Visit www.ptsd.va.gov
- Quilts of Valor – Makes handmade quilts for veterans in an attempt to thank them for their service. Visit https://www.qovf.org/.
Many organizations that assist veterans have 501c3 status which means that donations made to support their cause are tax deductible and can be claimed on your taxes. Many also look for volunteers to help them reach out to veterans who are in need and may have trouble finding a way to appointments or meetings.
Suicide is a life-shattering experience, whether it be a veteran or not. Loss of life is traumatizing, especially when the military service seems to have been put behind them. The fact is, when it comes to The 22, the battle rages on long after their active service is over. It is not a battle waged in public or for others to see. It is a personal war that many fight within themselves. For all who fight that battle and survive there are many scars, both seen and unseen. For those who fall into The 22, the battle didn’t end when they came home, it just continued on a different field. Cherish their memory by reaching out to other veterans and sharing your experience. Show them they aren’t alone. Offer them the respect they deserve and always be grateful for their sacrifice. For some, it may be everything they have.
This article is dedicated to Shawn White. May he know how thankful we are for his service and how saddened we are to hear of his passing.