Disconnection from others is proving fatal for veterans and service members around the country, with lawmakers reporting that two-thirds of vets who die by suicide have had no contact with support services.
It’s the reason why scores of veteran advocates, Medal of Honor recipients and former leaders of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are calling on Congress and all Americans to take part in National Warrior Call Day on Sunday, Nov. 13. The day marks a coast-to-coast call to action. It asks that all Americans — especially active duty and retired military personnel — make a call to a warrior, with someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and connect them with supports, if necessary.
“With its simple mission of imploring all Americans to connect with someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and let them know they care — National Warrior Call Day can foster greater connectivity. And greater connection can save lives,” the Medal of Honor recipients wrote in a recent letter to Congress.
Connectivity is key to reversing the tragic suicide trends among military members. Isolation – emotionally, psychologically, physically or some combination – is a precursor to suicidal thoughts. Time is of the essence to make these connections. In addition to post traumatic stress, invisible wounds linked to an underlying and undiagnosed traumatic brain injury can mirror many mental health conditions and spark isolation and suicidal ideation.
The ask is that on Nov. 13, every adult American should contact a veteran or service member and ask how they are doing, let them know they are cherished and, if necessary, steer them toward assistance when they might otherwise slip through the cracks.
Tragic trends nationally and at the state level
Nationally, the suicide rate for veterans is 31.7 deaths per 100,000 people — far eclipsing the rate for the general population at 17.3 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the VA’s latest figures. The rate is dramatically greater depending on geography. The veteran suicide rate in Maine is 35.2 deaths per 100,000 residents while in Alaska it hovers at 47.1 deaths per 100,000 residents, for example.
Not just veterans are suffering. Suicide is metastasizing among active-duty service members. The Pentagon’s annual report on suicide from 2020 found that for the active-duty, the rate of suicide increased from 20.3 per 100,000 in 2015 to 28.7 per 100,000 in 2020. Army marked a grim milestone as a Defense Suicide Prevention Office report revealed that the service suffered more suicides in 2021 than any other year since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Many other deaths may not be reported or classified as suicide because the evidence doesn’t support a death determination. This is a statistical “gray zone,” especially as society wrestles with alcohol and opioid addiction.
The group America’s Warrior Partnership recently released an interim report from its multi-year study of suicide deaths across eight states and uncovered significant disparities between state and VA data and a large error rate in how the VA accounts for deaths of vets. The group found that the suicide rate represented in the eight states was much greater, at 1.37 times the rate reported by the VA. And when researchers added in veterans whose deaths were from self-injury, including overdose deaths and other behavior closely aligned with self-harm or suicide, the rate of suicide was 2.4 times higher than the rate the VA reports.
Where there is connection, there is hope
Desmond Tutu wisely observed that “ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.”
Here is an opportunity to do something so simple and ordinary by making a call that results in the extraordinary — in a human connection that tethers someone to hope where there was none before.
Please – make a call to a warrior, on Nov. 13 and every day. It could save a life.