Veterans and Suicide
by James Glaser
January 14, 2016
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This is a hard subject. I don't like to write about it, but with on average 22 veterans a day committing suicide, that totals up to over 56,000 veterans killing themselves just since Barack Obama has become President. He had his last State of the Union address, and I guess 56,000 were not enough deaths for him to take notice because he never brought it up. Under Obama's watch so many bad things have come out about the VA, and I know other Presidents are just as much to blame for the horrible VA we have, but under Obama, so much came to light. When we found out how bad Walter Reed was under Bush, changes we made right away, but under Obama almost nothing is done, and even when they find VA employees doing criminal things, they don't even get fired. So even though it is a shitty topic, I have decided to write about it. If it doesn't help, at least I get to vent.

* * *

I had only been home a few weeks from Vietnam when I met him, and we seemed to hit it off well. We had both been Marines in the Nam, in different places, but at the same time. I didn't know him long, as one night he put on his Dress Blues and took along all his discharge papers and drove his car into the outside wall of a huge Catholic Church in Saint Paul at what was estimated to be about 100 miles per hour. I didn't know what to think.

When I first got back to the "world," veterans I knew didn't talk about any of the hard things they were thinking about. We talked about getting high, women, and that was about it. Some guys you got to know well talked about their family and what they might do after they figured out what they wanted to do.

I can remember sitting around a camp fire with three other vets, and after a while all of us were just sitting looking at the fire and not saying anything. It was easier not saying anything.

It's hard finding somebody to talk to that you can trust with thoughts when you feel you are the only one that is thinking these things.

All through college I would hear about vets that were killing themselves. The name Crazy Vietnam Vet was used in TV shows. Even Sergeant Joe Friday ran into some of them on his cop show. But I made it through college without talking and figured I'd make it the rest of my life without talking about it.

I didn't make it the rest of my life. I eventually went through several VA PTSD programs, and in every one of them I learned about more and more veterans who were taking their own life rather that talking about it.

At the Minneapolis VA, the family of a dead Veteran put up a plaque with his name on it in the waiting room of the PTSD building. Yes, it was a separate building from the VA Hospital. I don't think they wanted the "Crazy Vietnam Vets" to be mixing with the normal patients. One day I asked one of the doctors how the vet on that plaque died. He said it was a traffic accident. A few months later that vet's mom stopped in and brought a plate of cookies for guys waiting for their appointments. I thanked her, and said how sorry I was her son died in that accident. She looked at me kind of strangely, and said, "He hung himself."

So, then I realized that the doctor I was supposed to trust with everything I was trying to get out, wasn't honest with me at all.

One day several of us were outside that PTSD building at the VA smoking cigarettes and talking. Those pre-appointment talks were some of the best I ever had. Across the parking lot from where we were, was a driveway that sloped down to a loading dock at the basement level of the VA and there was a walking bridge across it. That bridge was high enough for a semi to get under. Well, some vet climbed up on the guard railing of that bridge and took a header into the concrete below and killed himself. So what did the VA do? They sent all the vets who had appointments home, and brought in counselors for the PTSD staff. Today there is a chain link covering all around that foot bridge so you couldn't take a leap if you wanted. I always thought they should have put up a plaque with that vet's name on it some place on that bridge.

I went to a three month PTSD in hospital program at the VA in Tomah, Wisconsin. The campus of that VA is beautiful, but all the ponds on the grounds have high chain link fences around them to keep the vets from drowning themselves.

So, there comes a time that you have to figure out if you are going to stick around or take the easy way out. For me, I had three wonderful children and so suicide was never in my thoughts, even if it was all around me.

I have been out of the Marines for decades, and still guys who were there with me are doing themselves in. When I first went to the VA for help I saw there were more and more WWII vets looking for help. They were able to stuff their thoughts and experiences for decades while working whatever career job they had, but when retirement came, there was a lot more time to just sit and think, nothing to take their minds off what they were hiding from themselves.

I have been in group counseling sessions with WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, and Gulf War veterans all together, and everyone seemed to be able to relate to what everyone else was saying. War and war experiences seem to be pretty much the same no matter what one you were in.

Some guys suffer from killing a civilian either on purpose or by mistake. Some guys can't get the horrible scenes that keep playing in their heads of their combat experiences to stop. Some even have guilt trips because in their minds they didn't do enough, and others died. Some did everything right, but the memory is so horrible they can't live with it. And I'm sure there are a thousand other reasons I never even thought about.

Is there any answer to stop Veterans from killing themselves? The only one I can think of is not having wars, because every war is filled with horrors that are so horrible that many veterans, smart, reasonable, well-trained, educated, gifted, disciplined men and women, cannot live with their memories of those wars.

So, we keep having wars, and veterans are going to keep killing themselves. And I guess our government and or VA medical system is fine with that. Now this is pretty sick, but I think the government and the VA are both just fine with the way things are going. Every vet that kills himself or herself saves the VA and the taxpayer a lot of money. If our government is sick enough to keep us in a constant state of war, it certainly is sick enough to keep letting veterans commit suicide without doing anything about it.

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