Veterans Take Their Lives at the Rate of 18 Per Day

Indeed a graver post than one would ordinarily find on “What Would Kiki Do?”  I hope, dear readers, that you will take a glance nonetheless.  Thank you.

Kiki, married to my grandfather for 53 years, was a Navy wife from 1936 to 1964 — and of course she and Papa were part of the Navy family for much longer.  Kiki spent most of WImageorld War II wondering whether her husband and the father of her twins would return safely from the Pacific, and saw him through his duties during the Korean and early Vietnam conflicts.  In those days of more traditional gender roles, she played an integral part in my grandfather’s life as a Naval officer.  When he retired, the First Fleet (which has now been subsumed into the 7th Fleet, if memory serves) gave her a plaque reading “Eleanor, Our Navy Wife.”  She was as committed to my grandfather’s career and to the well-being of his charges as he was.

I just read in the Washington Post that veterans take their lives at the rate of 18 people per day: a truly stunning number when I think beyond the realm of cold statistics and remember the suffering of these people and their families.

We do a good job of welcoming home our servicemen and women: tying yellow ribbons, unfurling flags at sporting events, and thanking them for their service.  What happens after the parades pass by is another matter.  There are many good people devoted to the lives of returning veterans, but clearly our system is broken.  Whether or not one supports our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems clear that we are not adequately addressing the needs of veterans of this long, devilishly complex, and uniquely traumatic war.  The alarming increase in acts of violence and murder by returning service members is a topic perhaps best left for another day.

As my wise friend Taylor points out, the issue of veteran suicide is a complicated one.  I will not attempt to parse its complexities here.  I write merely as Kiki and Papa’s granddaughter.  I think they would be appalled by the current state of affairs and by the statistics.

While I don’t necessarily believe we should reinstate the draft, the lack of one means that most citizens are insulated from the long-term realities of war; it also means that the burden of warfare is borne mostly by low-income families.  I hope those of us behind this layer of insulation can do more once the flags are furled and the bands have stopped playing.

Find a veterans support organization in our town and lend a hand?  Volunteer for the USO?  Offer assistance to neighbors who are veterans?  One non-profit organization that directly addresses the mental health needs of veterans is Give An Hour: http://www.giveanhour.org.  Give An Hour seeks volunteers in the mental health professions to donate their time to counsel veterans.  Even those outside the mental health professions can help by donating funds or time.

There are no easy answers.  Kiki used to say “Remember those less fortunate than you” — a good place to start.

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