prospect |  These US Army Veterans Are Still Helping Each Other to Survive

prospect | These US Army Veterans Are Still Helping Each Other to Survive


On the day she took her own life six years ago, her pockets full of inspirational sayings on scraps of paper, veteran Deana Martorella Orellana went to a veterans center and asked for help .

A year ago, the day he stood outside the Lincoln Memorial and shot himself in the head, Airman Kenneth Omar Santiago tried to get a counseling appointment on base.

And for months before ripping off his helmet and colliding with the massive rotors of a Seahawk helicopter to end his life, Brandon Caserta sought mental health help.

These are three people I’ve portrayed in military suicide stories over the past year, and they all had something in common. Each of them did exactly what campaigns, advisers and public service announcements tell people in crisis to do: they asked for help.

The US military is clearly not responding to their calls.

He committed suicide on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His suicide note is heartbreaking.

“You have an almost insurmountable task,” Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-Tex.) said during a September congressional hearing on preventing veteran suicides.

There were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths in 2020, down 343 from 2019, according to the latest report from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Deaths declined that year after two decades of steep increases.

During that hearing, members of Congress repeated horror stories they had heard from veterans trying to access mental health care. Like the veteran living in Maine who was told to go to New York for his counseling appointments, or a pregnant veteran in Illinois facing an upfront $50 fee for a mental health screening at its VA, something even private insurers don’t do. ‘task.

The Departments of Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs are struggling to manage a worsening mental health crisis nationwide, which is accompanied by a pronounced shortage of mental health professionals. This September congressional hearing focused on the planning procedures, staffing and paperwork needed to get help.

But it’s a much larger question. Ask veterans.

“In my opinion, it’s because we’re trying to solve it in a reactive way, mostly through a sanity lens,” wrote combat veteran Cole Lyle, who attempted suicide shortly after he was left the Marine Corps.

He considers that prevention advice before crisis advice is more effective. “Dealing with ordinary civil issues like unemployment, relationship stress, lack of purpose, acute financial problems, substance abuse, etc., are all part of the human condition that can be exacerbated by service-related issues” , he wrote about his organization. Blog.

So veterans do what they were trained to do: stand aside.

“How can we dispute that? It’s through community healing,” said Scott Hyder, founder and president of the nonprofit Hidden Battles Foundation, based in the hometown of Santiago, Mass., the Air Force member. who committed suicide at the Lincoln Memorial on November 11. year.

Santiago posted a long despondent message on social media explaining his depression and despair. What followed was a series of heartbreaking, timestamped pleas from friends who read the messages and didn’t know he was in pain, begging him to call them. As they were posting, it was too late.

Veteran suicides drop but remain ‘unfathomable and unacceptable’

“A lot has happened since Kenny passed away,” Hyder said. “988 [the nationwide suicide hotline that got 100,000 calls the first week it went live in September] was introduced, many organizations are focusing more on mental health, which is great.

But what really needs to change is the approach. The military cannot succeed by parachuting into mental health crises with government-issued advice to act as tourniquets for suicidal ideation. Some have suggested that mental health be treated like physical health – ongoing testing and training, just like PT qualifications. By making counseling sessions mandatory, any stigma is removed.

Someone can be “too proud and too strong and afraid to reach out and ask for help,” Hyder said. “And then when it gets to the point where people love Kenny, they reach out…but it’s hard to get help within hours. And then it’s too late.

Hyder’s group thrives on peer support and group therapy.

They have a meeting on Tuesday nights at the local YMCA – much like an Alcoholics Anonymous group – where vets can get together and talk about their feelings, understand that they are not alone and lean on each other. because who else will understand where they are coming from?

They run veteran rides, cafes, and even paint classes. It’s a safe place where their dark humor and demons are understood. And Hyder said he always hears from people across the country who want to organize a similar group.

Fight veteran Danny Mayberry is in contact with Hyder. Mayberry is in Hawaii and he hosts support groups weekly through his “1 Mile, 1 Veteran” podcast. Each podcast is 22 minutes long, about the time it takes to walk a mile. That’s what he hopes veterans in crisis do when they hear his stories of hope, struggle and resilience.

“If suicide can spread quickly, awareness can also spread faster,” Mayberry said when opening her latest episode. “Comfort can spread faster, value can spread faster, and hope can spread faster too.”

Back to Lyle, who found his salvation from his PTSD outside of the usual military and VA channels.

After he tried to kill himself, after pills, talk therapy that didn’t work, a 70 pound girl saved him.

“She gave me a little sense of purpose,” he said of Kaya, a German Shepherd trained as a service dog who cost $10,000. Lyle has since helped draft and pass the PAWS (Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers) Act, which helps veterans struggling with PTSD train and own their own Kayas at no cost.

There is no single answer to the problems encountered by people after the service. As a starting point, Lyle wants to make sure their voices are heard by those in a position to help.

Lyle is now executive director of Mission Roll Call, an advocacy group that works to bring the voice of veterans to the shaping of policy on Capitol Hill. And many of those voices — 53% in their latest poll — say the federal government “hasn’t been very effective” in dealing with the suicide crisis.

They follow one of the Battle School’s best lessons from Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game,” which encapsulates centuries of military experience: “Soldiers can sometimes make smarter decisions than the orders given to them. given.”

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