A Suicide Prevention Solution Hiding in Plain Sight

The entire military and VA heath systems are operating with a major disconnect for Veterans and their families.
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If you were duck hunting, when do you load your guns... When you see the ducks?
Of course not.

By the time Homecoming Veterans who need the help the most end up on the doorsteps of their families, for many, it's already too late.

The solution: Help Veterans before they become Veterans. Help them better prepare for homecoming during the critical months prior to separation from military service and during the dangerous months after they arrive home.

The Decompression Dilemma

The entire military and VA heath systems are operating with a major disconnect for Veterans and their families. A "Catch 22" exists for Veterans who are suffering the most from PTSD and other Combat related mental health issues. It is a major contributing factor to not only Veteran suicide but it explains some of the underlying reason why Veterans and their families are spiraling out of control and falling between the cracks of our society.
The "Catch 22": Warriors are trained to accomplish their mission or to die trying. Adapt, improvise and overcome is the ethos that is galvanized into their being. This Spartan code has been trained into young men and women of every nation since before Homer wrote the Iliad. Remember the old saying? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

Here's the problem with this "when the going gets tough" mentality. Warriors who need help the most are unwilling or incapable of asking for it. The catch 22, All VA mental health services are voluntary and the only way to get help after separating from the military is to ask for it. Even worse, there are real and perceived "barriers to care" that are additional roadblocks to getting the care they need:

  • Self reliance at all cost
  • Fear of being stigmatized by their peers or superiors as being weak.
  • Fear of having documentation of psychological counseling in their medical records that could prevent future promotions or civilian employment.
  • A strong reluctance to talk about their problems with counselors, especially if they are non-Veteran counselors.

Anything we can do as a society to lower the stigma or barriers to care of asking for help, should be embraced, developed and deployed.

Just like one cannot become a Marine, soldier, airman or sailor until graduation from boot camp or basic training, military personnel deserve the same level of training to help them prepare for their transition back to family, education, employment and community. In the months prior to separating from military service there is an opportunity to do much more to help service men and women, especially if they have served in combat or combat related job specialties.

In addition to the career and benefits briefings within the existing transition programs, we can do better. An opportunity exists to provide real prevention and early intervention resources to help soon to be Veterans with the emotional and psychological challenges they may be experiencing after war and deployment. The availability of these programs needs to be system wide and embedded into the out-processing experience. Warriors who will not raise their hand for help no matter how bad it gets can receive the tools they need for self-care without being singled out from their peer group for asking for assistance.

If programs were automatic and system wide, service men and women would soon realize they are not alone in their suffering and that predictable phases of homecoming can be anticipated and prepared for in advance. The military does an incredibly effective job compressing the hearts and minds of young recruits to go to war. There must be an equally balanced approach to preparing them for success in life after military experiences. We must create resources that preserve the leadership skills and investment made in each person while allowing the human being to effectively process their wartime experiences in healthy and constructive ways.

The United States was born from innovation and progressive thinking. With the advances in battlefield medicine, over 90% of injured military in combat make it home alive. We need only apply the same ingenuity, resources and dedication to homecoming and trauma/brain research to create measurable results quickly.

The other half of the equation: Nationally standardized and readily available preparedness training and resources for families before they welcome their Veterans home. Lots of effective programs are developing around the country but these good ideas and practices are not reaching the rural areas and families who are failing. Less than on half of one percent of family members serve in the military and we are ill prepared to help our homecoming Veterans when they need it most.

Here's a novel idea, lets put our voice together and change the way we do homecoming.

This post is part of a special Huffington Post series, "Invisible Casualties," in which we shine a spotlight on suicide-prevention efforts within the military. Every weekday in September, we'll feature a different blog post by someone who is either an expert in the field, who has been affected by a suicide, or who has contemplated suicide. To see all the posts in the series, as well as original reporting, audio and video, click here.

If you or someone you know would like to contribute to our series, send an email toimpactblogs@huffingtonpost.com.

And please, if you or someone you know needs help, call the national crisis line for the military and veterans, 1-800-273-8255, or send a text to 838255.

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