Under the Obama Administration, at least 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Active duty suicides in the military jumped by 30% since 2008, with one soldier, sailor, or marine expected to commit suicide in the next 25 hours. Ex-military suicides also increased 10% over the same period to about one every hour.
Rather than increasing access to mental health services, the Obama Administration recently tripled fees under the Tricare healthcare health plan that serves military families. An official told Congress one of the goals of higher costs was to reduce and eventually eliminate Tricare in “favor of alternatives” established by the 2010 Obamacare legislation.
When the Veterans Administration (VA) gets grilled by Congress on Wednesday, April 9th about suicides and the fact that the “VA Secretly Settled 1,000 Wrongful Death Claims,” I hope there is also a focus on positive changes to improve veterans’ mental health access.
According to Joachim Hagopian, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, “More military personnel died from suicide in 2012 than from fighting in Afghanistan and once they return home and become civilians they are killing themselves at a rate three times that of military active duty personnel.” The April 9th hearings are following release of a report the VA quietly paid $200 million to settle 1,000 wrongful death suits that were filed over a ten year period following 9/11. Hagopian believes the military has been trying to avoid public discussion of the military’s mental health epidemic.
The military’s spokesman initially said there was no indication of mental health problems in the records of last week’s Ft. Hood shooter, Specialist Ivan Lopez’s. But CNN found evidence Lopez had “self-reported” suffering a traumatic brain injury while serving as a truck driver in Iraq in 2011. The military spokesman should have known Lopez’s mental health issues, because the argument supposedly precipitating the killing spree took place in Ft. Hood’s “WTU”; That acronym stands for “Warrior Transition Unit.”
The U.S. Army states they structured WTUs at major military treatment facilities located around the world to provide personalized support to wounded, ill, and injured soldiers who require at least six months of rehabilitative care and complex medical management. Within a WTU, “wounded, ill and injured Soldiers work with their Triad of Care – primary care manager (normally a physician), nurse case manager, and squad leader – who coordinate their care with other clinical and non-clinical professionals.”
Americans in uniform have displayed astonishing courage over the thirteen years of continuous fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a conservative estimate from researchers at New York University School of Medicine determined that 20% of the total 1.7 million men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have now been diagnosed with PTSD. Such injuries can inflict lasting damage to brain regions associated with fear and anxiety. The report stated “Experiencing such acute shock and psychic injury permanently alter and restructure brain patterns and cognitive processes that even with years of extensive therapy and support can never be the same.” Victims’ minds often develop “automatic defense mechanism operating through denial, repression, projection, and the least harmful sublimation allows PTSD victims to minimally function, but leaves them feeling empty, all too often missing and craving the adrenalin rush and camaraderie of combat, and merely going through the motions of life forever changed never for the better.”
The Department of Defense 2014 budget states that as the US transitions out of the cost of being in Afghanistan, the Defense Department will be allocating increased funding for mental health programs for US soldiers and veterans. But this directly contradicts the Obama Administration’s defense budget requirement for “military families and retirees to have to pay significantly more for their healthcare,” while leaving unionized civilian defense workers’ healthcare benefits untouched. The supposed $12.9 billion of “saving” by 2017 is not for better veteran mental healthcare services, but an effort to force Tricare members into Obamacare policies with lower reimbursements.
With 22 veterans expected to commit suicide today, developing and expanding effective veterans’ mental health and social support systems must be a priority of the Obama Administration, Veterans Administration, and Congress. These men and women have given their best for America; it is our responsibility to provide the best for our heroes.
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