Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Rodriguez took his life after a tour in Afghanistan in March, 2011, but even with growing awareness of the problem, military suicide rates have continued to climb. According to the Pentagon, arecord 349 active duty soldiers fell to suicide in 2012, more than the 212 who fell last year in combat.
Worse, this number doesn’t reflect those who took their lives after they returned home from service. Some estimates suggest that in 2012 roughly 6,000 veterans may have committed suicide, but for reasons detailed in this great 2012 series from the Austin American Statesman, and in this more recent reporting by James Dao and Andrew W. Lehren at the New York Times, it’s extremely difficult to connect some veterans’ deaths to their service, or to confirm that the cause of death (overdose, car accident, etc) was actually the result of suicidal intent.
We played Coming Home to a few focus groups, and afterwards almost everyone asked: what can we do to help? Sadly, we’re frustrated that there’s really no easy answer, no one petition to sign or bit of legislation to lobby for.
It’s clearly not enough to simply welcome veterans back into communities by thanking them for their service; supports must extend throughout the community, through employment and mental health supports and reintegration programs. Year-long waits for benefits at the VA don’t help. Neither does a society that often still stigmatizes mental health services as being only for the “weak.”
With this in mind, we encourage curious listeners to explore the concept of moral injury, first introduced by Dr. Jonathan Shay, who has worked extensively with Vietnam veterans. Dr. Shay argues that emphasis on PTSD is counterproductive because affected soldiers are dealing with an actual injury — not an illness or disorder — and that redefining the malady requires rethinking our approach. You can hear more about this idea in this Talk of the Nation with Dr. Shay. Also, Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock explores the notion of moral injury at her work at Soul Repair Center at the Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas.
Finally, we came across a few remarkable organizations that are doing their best to support military families, and to build understanding and support between veterans, civilians, and their families. These organizations, listed in the right sidebar, often have great resources on their websites. TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) in particular does tremendous work with military families who’ve lost a loved one; they stepped in to provide support for Anna and Michael Rodriguez after Nick’s death.
Others, like Warrior Songs (which is the terrific organization that introduced us to Michael and Anna) are doing truly heroic work with veterans, their families, and their communities, often through the creative arts. We encourage you to visit their sites and support their work.