The Veterans Administration’s Veterans Crisis Line fields, on average, just under one thousand distress calls a day from veterans thinking about suicide. Add to that about one thousand online chats or text conversations aimed at avoiding suicide every week.
30 times a day, again – on average – the Crisis Line has to dispatch a team from emergency services to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation. 20 times a day there is no call or no intervention. 20 times on an average day an American military veteran succeeds in killing him (or her) self.
What’s going on here?
The VA’s data shows among military personnel on active duty, suicide rates are comparable to civilian rates of suicide, when adjusted for age and sex. If that sounds like good, or at least neutral news about life in the military, consider these two additional facts.
First, before 9/11/2001, active duty seemed to protect against suicide. Back then, suicide rates for people on active duty were as little as half that of the general population.
Second, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate for the veteran population is more than one and a half times that of the civilian population.
In other words, the problem of too many suicides really manifests itself after a Vet leaves active duty.
Our guest today, Matthew Hoh provided not only these facts, but this evocative image. “Think of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, The Wall, with its 58,000 names,” Hoh wrote in a powerful piece you can read online at Counterpunch.com.
“Now visualize” it, he says, extended by a quarter-mile or more to give space for the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 plus Vietnam veterans who came home and committed suicide. And then Hoh adds, “[Keep] space available to continue to add names for as long as Vietnam veterans survive, because the suicides will never stop.”
Matthew Hoh is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy and is the former Director of the Afghanistan Study Group, a network of foreign and public policy experts and professionals advocating for a change in US strategy in Afghanistan. A former State Department official, Matthew resigned in
protest from his post in Afghanistan over US strategic policy and goals in Afghanistan in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew served in Iraq; first in 2004-5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department reconstruction and governance team and then in 2006-7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. When not deployed, Matthew worked on Afghanistan and Iraq policy and operations issues at the Pentagon and State Department from 2002-8. Matthew’s writings have appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Defense News, the Guardian, the Huffington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. The Council on Foreign Relations has cited Matthew’s resignation letter from his post in Afghanistan as an Essential Document. In 2010, Matthew was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling.