Memorial Day: Honoring Vets Lost to Suicide and Addiction
Remembering Vets who sustained PTSD and died by suicide and addiction.
Posted May 28, 2018
This Memorial Day, I remember our veterans who have died from suicide, alcoholism, and addiction. I remember our brave men and women who have died from the battle wounds of PTSD — wounds concurrent with illnesses and symptoms such as: TBI, depression, night terrors, insomnia, anxiety, alcoholism, addiction, self-violence, and violence towards others. As a sleep activist, advocating for healthy sleep as a basic human right, I take pause to honor those veterans who could not find rest due to their fatal PTSD wounds.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
- 20 veterans commit suicide every day
- Veterans’ suicides account for 18% of the suicide deaths in the country, while they only make up 8.5% of the adult population
- Highest rates are in Western rural states
- Women veterans are at much greater risk, with their suicide rate 2.5 times higher than for female civilians
- Veterans over the age of 50 account for 7 out of 10 suicides
This Memorial Day, I remember, especially, the forgotten ones: our homeless vets who have died in terrible ways as a direct result of PTSD. According to National Alliance to End Homelessness:
- In January 2016, communities across America identified 39,471 homeless veterans during point-in-time counts
- Because of veterans’ military service, this population is at higher risk of experiencing traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), both of which have been found to be among the most substantial risk factors for homelessness
- Black veterans are substantially overrepresented among homeless veterans, comprising 39 percent of the total homeless veteran population but only 11 percent of the total veteran population
Further from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, with these stats on homeless vets and suicide from the Homeless Evidence and Research Synthesis (HERS) Roundtable Series:
- In 2014, an average of 20 Veterans died from suicide each day
- Only 6 of the 20 were users of VA health care services
- With a suicide rate of 81 per 100,000, homeless Veterans are particularly vulnerable
My father survived World War II, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. However, he suffered his whole life with undiagnosed PTSD, resultant fits of rage, and debilitating insomnia. He self-medicated with alcohol which nearly killed him. If it had, it would not have been considered suicide and yet, I know in my heart that it would have been a direct result of his active duty.
Therefore, this Memorial Day, I also remember our men and women who have survived active duty, only to return home to face alone, even sometimes homeless, death by alcoholism and addiction.
Further from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, with these stats from their National Center for PTSD:
- More than 2 of 10 Veterans with PTSD also have Substance Use Disorder (SUD)
- War Veterans with PTSD and alcohol problems tend to be binge drinkers. Binges may be in response to bad memories of combat trauma
- Almost 1 out of every 3 Veterans seeking treatment for SUD also has PTSD
- The number of Veterans who smoke (nicotine) is almost double for those with PTSD (about 6 of 10) versus those without a PTSD diagnosis (3 of 10)
- In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, about 1 in 10 returning soldiers seen in VA have a problem with alcohol or other drugs
Are there solutions beyond ending war, which, from human history does not seem likely? Here are some resources for our Veterans suffering from the battle wounds of active duty, resources for their loved ones, and resources for professionals...
For Professionals working with veterans
From my own experience living with PTSD and resultant life-threatening disordered sleep, writing, storytelling, and community has proved tremendously healing. I am honored to have read from my memoir at the mental health advocacy group This Is My Brave's (TIMB) 2015 New York City Show and to also be a speaker on their Speakers Bureau. #StorytellingSavesLives:
With the transformative power of art and community in mind, and in honor of all of our veterans who died in battle or as a result of battle wounds, I share Edna St. Vincent Millay's, Dirge Without Music:
Dirge Without Music
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.