Three veteran suicides in five days point to VA shortcomings

By Alaina Perdon

Elm Staff Writer

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs is a Cabinet-level agency founded to provide healthcare to military veterans in need at clinics across the country. Though it is a well-intentioned program, many find glaring faults in its operations.

Three veterans have committed suicide within the past week in VA facilities across the country. It’s a tragedy, of course, but not an uncommon occurrence. According to the latest VA reports, 20 veterans take their lives daily. These statistics indicate a glaring issue with the care provided by the VA.

Returning from the emotional and physical cataclysm that is modern warfare, military veterans are a uniquely injured faction of the population, and deserve the utmost care. Yet most veterans and their families feel they have been left bereft of assistance, even with a system like the VA in place.

Why is it that Support Our Troops banners only fly when our troops are overseas, out of sight? Where is the support for the returning troops, fatigued, injured, and left to grapple with these issues alone?

Investigations into the operations of the VA indicate a gross issue with understaffing and general lack of resources. This often results in a large percentage of veterans not receiving the care they need — be it prescriptions backlogged for years or doctor’s appointments never scheduled.

To add insult to injury, mental health amongst veterans is not treated with the same legitimacy as physical health. An investigation into the mental wellbeing of veterans found many do not seek help because of the “dishonor” surrounding mental health issues and the fear of damaging their career or reputation.

Combining untreated psychological issues with the neglect of basic needs creates a cocktail of pain. A source closely tied to investigations into VA operations speculates on the manner in which veterans are pushed to the extreme.

“I think many [veterans] have mental health issues and they don’t start out wanting to kill someone. But when it takes them months and months to get the benefits that they need, I think they end up getting so frustrated with the system and everything they have to deal with to get what they’re rightfully entitled to…they get pushed to the point where they kill themselves or threaten to kill someone,” she explains.

Spread so thin they cannot provide support to their clients, the VA is forcing individuals into precarious situations, leading them to take violent, severe actions out of line with their typical personalities. This epidemic of veteran suicide sweeping the nation goes hand in hand with the stigma around mental health still perpetuated in American society.

“I wish it was as simple as me saying I could do more patrols in a parking lot that would stop this epidemic,” says Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration. “Where we as a community and society have failed that veteran is a very complex answer.”

Indeed, the problem does not have a simple solution. It requires collaboration on a federal and citizen level to make progress. Society collectively needs to work to end the dehumanization of those who suffer from PTSD and other mental illnesses, and normalize seeking the help of mental healthcare professionals when in need.

Increasing funding to the VA is easier said than done, but a reevaluation of priorities is necessary to prevent tragedy from unfolding. In a nation that is so staunchly patriotic, returning war heroes should not have to go months without prescription pain killers for battle wounds.

It is deplorable to allow those who have made “the ultimate sacrifice” for this nation to suffer like this, forced to take their own lives as a means to escape the depraved reality they have been left in. While the VA is well-intentioned, a drastic phase shift — at a societal and governmental level — must be implemented to reduce the number of lives lost in such a heartbreaking manner.

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