War is hell. And despite our departure from Iraq and Afghanistan, peace remains elusive to those who have returned, due to the ongoing effects of war on veterans. The high suicide rates among veterans is one of the most devastating realities that continues to plague our nation. In a 2021 article written in the New York Times "The Toll of War", Dave Phillips took a look at the issue of veteran suicide and the struggles that veterans face when trying to access mental health care.
Within this article is the story of Army veteran Kelly Jenkins, who was struggling with PTSD and depression after serving in Iraq. Kelly had tried to get help from the VA, but was repeatedly turned away. After months of struggling on his own, he took his own life. His story is all too familiar.
According to the article, "[a]t least 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have killed themselves in the past six years. That is more than 20 deaths a day — in other words, more suicides each year than the total American military deaths from Afghanistan and Iraq." These numbers are staggering and speak to the urgency of addressing this issue. Though these numbers have improved over the last two years, it remains in the double-digits.
This issue highlights not just the tragedy of veterans taking their own lives but also touches on the challenges that veterans face when trying to access mental health care. While the VA has made progress in recent years, there are still significant gaps in care. For example, some veterans are forced to wait weeks or even months to get an appointment with a mental health professional.
There are alternatives and some of these include alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation. Returning to the article, the NY Times interviewed one veteran, Mark Divine, who found that practicing yoga helped him to manage his PTSD and depression. He now runs a yoga studio that is dedicated to helping veterans. This is a common theme, veterans finding what works and creating a solution to share with other veterans. The Graffiti of War Project shared a similar beginning as art therapy worked for the founder through creative writing and local VA healthcare facilities were unable to provide the required care.
"The Toll of War" was a powerful article that shed light on an important issue, one we cannot forget as the daily highlight reels of an ongoing war have disappeared from our daily lives. We must continue to face the realities of the struggles that veterans face when trying to access mental health care and the urgent need for improved support and resources. The NY Times provides a poignant quote in stating "[w]e are a nation at war, and the invisible wounds of war are the signature injury of this generation."
Though the Global War on Terror is now in our past, the impacts of a two decade war continues to impact millions, from the service members who have returned from combat, to their families who live with the effects of how combat has forever changed their loved ones. As we get further from the front lines of our the wars in our past, we must as citizens of this nation, not forget those who sacrificed so much in our place. Whether you agreed with the politics behind the wars is inconsequential. They went, they served, they sacrificed, so we didn't have to, they stood in the gap for every American. Now it is our turn, to stand in the gap for them. It is up to all of us to do what we can to support our veterans and to ensure that they get the care and help that they need...for as long as it takes.
Jaeson "Doc" Parsons