War veteran believes “There’s probably a tidal wave of suicides coming.”
The US military is currently suffering from two “plagues,” according to this CNN article. The first is sexual assault. The second is suicide. And we are now beginning to see the devastating link between the two.
The piece tells the story of Air Force veteran Jack Williams, who was raped three times by his drill sergeant almost 50 years ago. He was a young man of 18 when it happened, and 3am is burned in his memory. That’s when the drill sergeant woke Williams, had him stand at attention in his shirt and boxers, then choked him, then raped him. And Williams, ashamed of what others would think and terrified that he might be labeled a homosexual – a label he said, at the time, was like being labeled a child molester – would quietly go back to bed.
Jack was a man excited to represent and serve his country, but he was instead served words like “pansy” and “coward” until he actually begin to believe them. He is now a man on a mission to spread awareness, a man angry that others are no doubt experiencing something similar.
When headlines break on this topic, victimized women are often at the forefront. As the article states:
“Women get most of the attention on this issue because, proportionately, their numbers are much higher. Women make up only about 15% of the active-duty force but account for 47% of sexual assault victims.”
But consider this survey statistic from the Pentagon: 76% of 13,900 male sexual assault victims did not file a complaint. The discussion often ends there. But the trauma remains; the feelings of guilt and shame and pain often stay buried somewhere inside like the chickenpox virus – many won’t suffer from shingles, many will. And the simile doesn’t address the huge percentage of survivors who are pained and struggling but unable to recognize or articulate what they’re feeling.
Jack’s story, and the thousands of men he speaks for, is coupled with yet another startling statistic, this one from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs:
Between 1999 and 2011, across 21 states, an average of 22 veterans killed themselves each day. And this doesn’t include how, as Moni Basu pointed out:
“A homeless person who has no one who can vouch that he or she is a veteran, or others whose families don’t want to divulge a suicide because of the stigma associated with mental illness; they may pressure a state coroner to not list the death as suicide.
“If a veteran intentionally crashes a car or dies of a drug overdose and leaves no note, that death may not be counted as suicide.”
Last month, President Obama said that we “…need to keep improving mental health services because we have to end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops.” But steps to seriously address this issue will take far more than implementing suicide prevention strategies, funding mental health programs or even creating awareness campaigns. The root here is trauma. Brutal, humiliating, long-lasting trauma. What strategies are in place to cut these roots? The greatest Band-Aid in the world is still no match for the deepest wound.
Brian Kinsella is an Iraq war veteran and the founder of Stop Soldier Suicide. He told CNN that, “There’s probably a tidal wave of suicides coming.” His statement comes as a result of their being nearly 900,000 calls between October 2006 and June 2013 on the Veterans Crisis Line.
Where to from here? How to keep listening? How to keep sharing stories? How to make it so there aren’t so many damn stories to be told in the first place?
–Photo: las – initally/Flickr