So, this morning on National Public Radio (NPR) I heard, yet again, that the number of suicides by veterans and active duty military in 2012 exceeded the number of deaths in combat.
Sometimes when we hear statistics we don’t really hear them. They go in one ear and out the other. I remember when I heard, during the presidential primary races of 2008, that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause of death among African-American women in their 20s, I was stunned. I thought to myself, “That’s an epidemic – we should have that statistic on every billboard and every TV screen across the country.” Well, every time I hear the statistic about suicide and our armed forces, I have that same thought. That’s an epidemic. Everyone should know this – we should be shouting it from the rooftops. We have to do something about it.
Here’s another statistic to blow your socks off: More than 1,100 members of the armed forces died by suicide from 2005 to 2009 – an average of 1 suicide by a member of the armed forces occurred every 36 hours.
If you don’t know it, HCC houses 80+ formerly homeless, disabled veterans on any given night here in Dallas. We house them in what is aptly named Permanent Supportive Housing – or PSH. The key word here isn’t “permanent”, although the housing is exactly that. The most important word is actually “supportive.”
The average life span for someone who has the same circumstances as our vets is 45. If you’re chronically homeless and disabled, your survival chances are dramatically less than those of your housed and healthy neighbors. You need housing, certainly, but you need support even more.
We have had clients die in our programs, but not from suicide – knock on wood – rather, from natural causes. I am convinced this is because of the support offered to our clients. The word “case management” doesn’t paint the right picture. Our case managers are coaches, disciplinarians, resource-finders, parents, sponsors, listeners, counselors, and sometimes friends. They do this work, which is made up of long hours, little pay, and even less recognition, because they are amazing people with amazing skills who love what they do. So if you have time today, thank a case manager for saving a veteran. And let’s work on supporting our military (and their families) better in 2013.