Last Sunday night, at 7:30 PM. just as an evening sunset set the western skies ablaze, one of our local vets pulled into the parking lot of our local VA office, stepped out of his car and put a gun to his head.
He was just one of 22 vets who commit suicide each day, according to the VA. This one they didn't have to run the numbers on...they only needed to walk out into their own parking lot. To fully comprehend the scope of these tragedies one only need look at the numbers. While only 1% of the U.S. population choose to serve in the military, an astounding 22 percent of all suicides are military veterans.
Since 2003 more veterans have died by suicide than have died in combat. There are more than 55,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial and more than twice that number of military vets have taken their own lives. The folks who study these numbers say the overwhelming cause is PTSD; not only dealing with the horror of war but, perhaps harder, learning to integrate back into a society that has never seen the horror and can't begin to understand it.
Even soldiers who've witnessed the horror of war don't always process it until much later. In Vietnam you could see a thousand dead Viet Cong bodies stacked like firewood on the base perimeter, and you process those as "body count"...it is not until you come home and those bodies spring back to life, and haunt you in your dreams, does the horror become real.
And so, we bring those vets home, and rightly or wrongly, we turn them over to civilian medical personnel who haven't a clue what's inside a vet's head, and those bureaucrats begin treating vets as just another number, a body to process through the system, a statistic to be posted in some file that might earn them a bonus. And even the good ones don't or can't take the time to understand. While a medic on the battlefield will risk his own life to save a comrade, the VA folks here man a desk and can't muster one tenth of the heroism necessary to treat and save a veteran.
Someone once wrote that those who commit suicide are not cowards; they're just angels who want to go "home". Tragically, far too many vets just never make it "home."