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Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

We’ve all heard about the death toll in Iraq (~4,100 dead at the time of this writing), seen the footage of memorial services, the news reports about hidden casualties and the perceived unreality of what’s happening in the Middle East. But there’s a subset of war casualties we don’t hear much about—those returned soldiers who commit suicide, who attempt suicide, who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, who suffer from any number of other mental illnesses exacerbated by the war.

Kevin and Joyce Lucey, a couple who lost their son to suicide in 2004, marked this Memorial Day differently, attending a new kind of rally.

Organizers of the waterfront rally, including Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, said they wanted an alternative way to mark Memorial Day from traditional “militaristic” parades and speeches that glorify war. For instance, President Bush yesterday talked about soldiers in Iraq who died “doing what they loved most: defending the United States of America.” The reality, said Memorial Day for Peace organizers, is that troops and civilians alike are dying for Bush’s foreign policy mistakes.

Yet, despite opinion polls over the last two years that consistently show the majority of Americans oppose the five-year-old war, many protests draw small crowds. Only about 100 people, mostly veterans and veteran activists, turned up at the waterfront, drawing a few barbs from the speakers about all the people who view Memorial Day as little more than a day off from work. [Boston Globe, Rally’s veterans, activists seek to avoid glorifying war, Scott Allen, May 27th, 2008.]

But what about those who are still with us, struggling with depression, PTSD, and urges to commit suicide? Well, there’s some hope in a new private practice programme. As this article from the AP tells us,

WASHINGTON—Thousands of private counselors are offering free services to troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems, jumping in to help because the military is short on therapists.

On this Memorial Day, America’s armed forces and its veterans are coping with depression, suicide, family, marital and job problems on a scale not seen since Vietnam. The government has been in beg-borrow-and-steal mode, trying to hire psychiatrists and other professionals, recruit them with incentives or borrow them from other agencies.

Among those volunteering an hour a week to help is Brenna Chirby, a psychologist with a private practice in McLean, Va.

“It’s only an hour of your time,” said Chirby, who counsels a family member of a man deployed multiple times. “How can you not give that to these men and women that … are going oversees and fighting for us?”

There are only 1,431 mental health professionals among the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel, said Terry Jones, a Pentagon spokesman on health issues.

About 20,000 more full- and part-time professionals provide health care services for the Veterans Administration and the Pentagon. They include psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, social workers and substance abuse counselors. [Pauline Jelinek, AP, May 25th, 2008.]

Until a chance encounter over coffee the other day, this new death toll had not occurred to me—sure, I knew troops had issues with PTSD and the like, I even know a couple. But the idea of suicide as a result of war, although immediately understandable, was not on my personal radar. And how true is that for the public in general? Mental illness carries a stigma—a lesser stigma in the US than some other parts of the world, but a stigma all the same. Which is why it’s important, imperative even, that we talk about it, today.

For more information, help, and non-judgemental discussion about suicide and depression, contact The Samaritans at http://www.samaritanshope.org and 877-870-HOPE (4673).

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