Honoring All Our Veterans: A Memorial Day Reflection on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

As Memorial Day draws near, we at Path Forward Legal feel called to steer the conversation towards an issue that often remains hidden, yet profoundly affects the brave men and women who have served our country – mental health and suicide among veterans.

Unveiling the Reality: Veterans, Mental Health, and Suicide

The Veterans Administration Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’s 2021 Annual Report published an unsettling statistic – the ten-year average number of veteran suicide deaths is around 6,000 per year. When compared with the number of fatalities in recent wars (58,220 in Vietnam; 383 in the Gulf War; and 6,840 in Iraq and Afghanistan), it’s clear we are facing a different kind of battle, one that requires our utmost attention and compassion.

Honoring Our Veterans: Remembering Those Lost to Suicide

On Memorial Day, we pay tribute to all the heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. This includes those who have fallen not only on the battlefield but also those who tragically succumbed to the invisible scars of service. The veterans who died by suicide are remembered, their struggles acknowledged, and their service honored.

Progress and Hope

Encouragingly, there has been a slight decrease in veteran suicide deaths since 2019. This progress can be attributed to a variety of factors, including increased awareness, expanded education and treatment programs for veterans and their families, and reduced U.S. involvement in military conflicts.

Mental Health and Traumatic Brain Injury: The Invisible Wounds of War

While physical injuries are often readily apparent, psychological trauma is less visible yet equally devastating. Traumatic brain injuries and mental illnesses, such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, can lead to severe emotional distress and hopelessness. Recognizing these invisible wounds and acknowledging their severity is a crucial step towards recovery.

Eradicating the Stigma: Encouraging Open Conversations About Mental Health

There’s an unfortunate stigma attached to mental health issues that can deter individuals, including veterans, from seeking the help they need. As a society, we need to normalize discussions around mental health and reinforce that seeking help is a strength, not a weakness.

Operation Veteran Strong: Building Resilience and Connections

One shining example of these efforts is Operation Veteran Strong. This initiative was created through a partnership between the Colorado Office of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the Rocky Mountain MIRECC of the VA, and Grit Digital Health. Operation Veteran Strong was developed to build grit, resilience, and to connect veterans to resources across various aspects of their lives. The platform assists veterans with career transitions, behavioral health, navigating VA benefits, and, crucially, fostering connections with other veterans.

Reach Out: Help is Available

Remember, if you or a loved one is a veteran struggling with mental health issues, you are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 or their Crisis Chat Line) and the Veteran Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 or their Veteran Crisis Chat Line) are available 24/7.

As we commemorate Memorial Day, let us honor all of our fallen servicemen and women – including those lost to the silent struggle with mental health. By spreading awareness, reducing stigma, and promoting available resources like Operation Veteran Strong, we can ensure our veterans receive the respect, understanding, and support they deserve.