Catasauqua Press

Monday, November 20, 2017

Another view

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 by The Press in Opinion

Veterans suffer from invisible wounds

My name is Julia Fritz, and I worked as the summer intern at the Lehigh Valley Press’ eight weekly newspapers.

I graduated from Allentown Central Catholic High School and am currently a rising junior at Muhlenberg College, majoring in media and communications with a double minor in Spanish and creative writing.

I have always loved to write, and I wanted to explore the different career paths I could take with my interests, so I inquired about an internship with the Lehigh Valley Press.

I believe it is important to learn as much as possible in order to build one’s skill set.

I have family members who have served in the military, so I am always aware of the difficulties, whether through the news or word of mouth, servicemen and women and veterans are facing.

In this opinion piece, I want to discuss an issue that is prevalent and important to society but has been on the back burner recently.

There has been a decent amount of conversation — for example, President Trump’s transgender ban — about the military in the news recently.

What hasn’t been in the news, though, is the problem facing the military after their wars are behind them.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans died by suicide each day in 2014.

While it may seem the number has decreased from the 2012 report of 22 veterans dying each day by suicide, a number heavily publicized by media and public figures, a New York Times article titled “Suicide Rate Among Veterans Has Risen Sharply Since 2001” quoted RAND Corporation Epidemiologist Rajeev Ramchand saying it is actually not a helpful number.

Ramchand, who studies suicides for RAND, said the lower number could be due to the total number of veterans declining because those of the Korean War and World War II die from old age.

This leads to a lower number such as 20 even though the risk of suicide is, in fact, higher.

The number 20 or 22 may not be exactly accurate, but as VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin said, in a Department of Veterans Affairs 2016 news release, “One veteran’s suicide is one too many.”

According to the Department of Veterans Affair’s 2014 report, approximately 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide were age 50 or older.

In light of this news over the years, the Department of Veterans Affairs emphasized its 24/7 crisis line, assessments to identify veterans at risk and mobile apps to further inform and provide tools to veterans and their families.

One advantage of social media and its prevalence in this day and age is the ability for issues and ideas to go viral instantly.

Last year, I saw videos on Facebook of strangers and friends doing 22 pushups for 22 days to raise awareness of the number of veterans who commit suicide every day.

Furthermore, the demographic that appears to be most at risk for suicide — middle-aged men — may not reap the benefits the Department of Veterans Affairs is boasting about.

Those who are not millennials often struggle using social media or online resources. Many veterans who are at risk may not be able to use those resources, or even know about them, if they don’t have access to the Internet or today’s technology.

And while society has just recently been focusing on breaking the stigma associated with mental health and producing open dialogue, the older generation may be more inclined to internalize feelings and emotional struggles.

While online videos and news articles promoting support against veteran suicide is good, action is even better.

A staple in every branch of armed forces is the camaraderie and bonding between men and women in the service.

It’s impossible for an individual not to rely on or trust others who go through boot camp and the terrifying conditions of war alongside them.

Those connections, in that moment, are just as crucial to a soldier’s survival as weapon’s mastery and tactical skills.

In 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs created Make the Connection, a way for veterans and their family members to connect with the experiences of other veterans as well as connect with information and resources to help them confront the challenges of transitioning from service.

The most important thing for all veterans at risk, young or old, is not just making connections, but keeping connections.

Whether new connections made once back in civilian life, or old connections with fellow men and women they served with, veterans need support from those who know what it was like being in action, as well as the support of their family and friends once back home.

A RAND Corporation 2017 study “Quality of Care for PTSD and Depression in the Military Health System” found less than half of service members receive an adequate amount of initial care when beginning treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression.

The study also found “the Military Health System had high percentages for screening for suicide risk.

However, providing adequate follow-up for those with suicide risk could be improved given that a low proportion (30 percent) of service members with depression who were identified as having suicide risk in a new treatment episode received adequate follow-up…”

If service members received the adequate care and follow-up they truly needed, they would be better equipped once out of the service and back in civilian life.

Awareness of veteran suicide and preventive measures are out there. However, there needs to be more initiative in assessing veterans and/or servicemen and attacking the issue at once.

Adjusting to civilian life is difficult, but it can be made easier with a support system, empathy and health organizations that can guide a veteran step by step.

We are reminded of a veteran’s sacrifice and a soldier’s fight for freedom in our everyday lives.

We remove our caps at baseball games, children place their hands across their hearts each morning at school, musicians display American flags across their stage and picnics occur in backyards every Memorial Day.

We salute and thank those who serve. It’s a great idea, but it needs to go one step further.

Action is what matters — action to protect the lives of those who fought to protect our freedom.

What needs to be prioritized is protecting those soldiers who are fighting a battle even when they come home.

Julia Fritz

summer intern

Lehigh Valley Press