For those of you who know a thing or two about the Nigerian Civil war, you would know just how bloody and devastating it was for the people of Nigeria, especially the people of Biafra (Igbo community) from which I trace my roots who three years into the war were declared losers when the war was only anticipated to last 3 days due to the obvious military disadvantage of the Igbo people.
My Grandpa was a Biafran war hero for these 3 years and considering the stories of other Biafran soldiers after the war, my Grandpa did really well. He had a bad eye and a few other minor difficulties but Lived up till the good old age of 112 before he died in 2018.
According to a journal by Marek S. Kopacz and others, an estimated 22 Veterans commit suicide daily in America, and this amounts to about 18% of all suicides in the country. This is a startling stat and once that we must fight as a community to reverse
In spite of the glaring side effects of active combat, my grandpa was a delightful, and spiritual man and a pillar to all his children and grandchildren. He did have to overcome his suicidal ideation and raise a family unaffected by the terrors that come with war. Here are a few things he credited for getting him through, things we may need to adopt as a community to help our veterans everywhere in the world, especially in America where the rates are astounding.
1. The Roles of Family and Community
When I look back at how it all went, I am certain that my grandpa’s survival was largely due to the strong sense of community and the high value of family that exists in the Igbo communities of Nigeria. A common catchphrase in Igbo land is, ‘Igwebuike’ which can be loosely translated to mean, “Community is strength”.
One of the main problems in American societies is the degradation of family culture in many communities and while, community actions are being promoted increasingly, we aren’t quite there yet. My grandpa was a family man and the exaltation that heralded our Biafran soldiers didn’t die after the civil war was over. Cultures differ, but principles rarely ever differ. Coming home to a loving adoring family gives Veterans one thing to live for.
Where direct family is missing, I think communities must rally around to welcome and support troops who have served our nations in a bid to make them feel loved and valuable. Every veteran draws closer to suicide when he comes back to gloominess and loneliness.
2. The Role of Faith
Marek S. Kopacz and others published a special study; Understanding the Role of Chaplains in Veteran Suicide Prevention Efforts: A Discussion Paper. In their paper, they revealed that the roles of faith in military zones also extended to the Veterans after active service. In their paper, they stated that;
‘Religion and suicide have been inextricably linked ever since Durkheim’s (1897/1997) seminal study. Consequently, most clinicians see religion and spirituality as important to understanding suicidal behavior (Colucci & Martin, 2008).
According to the VA, veterans are often found dealing with other further events like divorce, health issues, and other issues not directly related to military service. They also usually sense a great deal of sadness, guilt and this often necessitates psychological and pastoral intervention on a consistent basis.
Chaplains and faith-based activities have been known to help veterans sail through these turbulent emotions and experiences, by giving them a sense of meaning here and beyond here. My grandfather, became a devout Christian soon after the war and as it was reported, he glowed with new found hope and this led him on a mission, a self-proclaimed mission to raise a godly seed.
A number of veterans don’t know what they stand for after active service and with other human problems also plaguing them, they are more prone to suicidal behavior. Communities should organize faith-based activities and fellowships either exclusively for veterans or made to include them. Alternatively, communities should create purpose-laden activities and seek Veteran volunteers to spearhead them. The finding of meaning is usually a powerful antidote to suicide.
3. The role of Passionate Work
My grandfather was a cobbler before the war and on return, he went straight back to the same work. He loved mending shoes and footwear and this was to be his major income going forward.
The reintegration of American veterans into society is shocking. Many veterans return home with a high school diploma, a DD214 (a Proof of Service document) and often a PTSD diagnosis. Soldiers are told that they can ‘be all that they can be in the Army.’, little wonder it is shocking to them to find that they can hardly become anything when they leave.
The integration rate of veterans into Corporate America is shockingly low and this leaves them with options that are less desirable and for which they are less passionate.
Companies and organizations must add “veteran support and employment” to their social consciousness strategy alongside women employment and race accommodation. Passionate work is a reason for living and making sure that veterans have this is certainly going to reduce suicide rates.
4. The role of Proper Treatment
My Grandpa endured having shrapnel tear his left eye, but local herbal medicine was applied soon after returning home from the front and this saved his eye from absolute blindness though it was badly deformed. If this could be done in 1962 Nigeria, there is no reason why we shouldn’t give Veterans access to the best medication for them.
The number one mental ailment that veterans suffer from is PTSD and other anxiety related diseases including clinical depression. In recent times We have seen Canada legalize Cannabis for both Clinical and recreational use. America has about 33 states where clinical use is approved, but for some reasons, Cannabis related treatment is not approved for use on soldiers and veterans in treating PTSD, Epilepsy or Anxiety.
There has been a great deal of confusion in the media about the clear differences between CBD and THC. Most Medications extracted from the cannabis plant have high CBD contents which are known for tremendous relief in pain, anxiety, and paranoia but doesn’t get one high. This is as opposed to THC (conventional pot) which is also extracted from the same plant but is known for increasing Anxiety.
Regulation drugs given for PTSD are turning Veterans into zombies, they are being complained of frequently and may even be related to the high suicide rates. Communities must come together to put pressure for legislation to change in these areas for these people who have served our nation to get access to CBD based drugs in VA regulated health facilities.
Grandpa was one of the lucky ones, but with the right steps, there is no reason all vets cannot be lucky. One thing is sure, we must reduce this alarming suicide rate.
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