According to the Veterans Affairs Department, at least 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day. That’s more than 2,000 deaths so far this year. It’s gotten so bad that experts are calling it a “suicide epidemic.”
The Fort Hood shooting, which saw a veteran with mental health problems kill three soldiers and injure 16 others before taking his own life, has thrust this issue into the spotlight. Lawmakers are not short on opinions of the best way to handle the overarching problem and have issued several suggestions. Here are some of the most talked-about ideas:
#1 – Provide mental health professionals with education and training specifically for dealing with veterans. This is currently part of a omnibus veterans bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
#2 – Give veterans longer to sign up for VA health benefits. A key part of a bill introduced by Sen. John Walsh, it would let veterans sign up for the benefits up to 15 years after leaving the military. Currently, they only have 5 years to sign up, which advocates say ignores those who have a “delayed reaction to trauma.”
#3 – Require the Pentagon to “reexamine troops who were discharged for PTSD-related behaviors—which can include nightmares, flashbacks, changes in personality, sleeping disorders, and suicidal thoughts.” This is also part of Sen. Walsh’s bill.
#4 – Expand the number of ways that troubled veterans can reach out for help. For instance, the VA hopes to expand its “telemental health capabilities,” which already include “a 24/7 crisis line—which the VA says has saved more than 35,000 lives.”
All four of these ideas have faced criticism in the form of one main question: How would we pay for it?
Fortunately, another way to tackle the military’s suicide epidemic costs the government next to nothing. However, it requires a more largely scaled effort than simply changing or expanding a bureaucratic program:
#5 – Increase community support for our service members by communicating with them during their service, welcoming them back home and – most importantly – providing encouragement and/or resources after they leave the military.
War is tough on our soldiers. And it’s our responsibility – not just as a government, but also as citizens – to take care of them, both while they are serving and after they come home. To check out ways you can volunteer to help, search for “Veterans & Military Families” opportunities on VolunteerMatch.org.