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Op-Ed: Mentally ill veterans have earned the nation's support

Published December 21, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Every man and woman who joins America's military wrote a blank check to the citizens of our country representing the cost every one of them was willing to pay included time away from family and friends, extended deployments into hazardous areas for combat operations, and the possibility of paying the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives to protect our freedoms.

That check has been signed and paid for by their very own blood, sweat, tears and lives.

It is estimated that a third of all veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from mental illness, and that number appears to be rising. The check written by our returning veterans is taking its toll through post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

Combat-related deaths in Afghanistan were reported as 295, compared to 319 suicides for military members currently on duty. While the death of every service member is a tragedy regardless of the manner, to have more suicides than combat deaths is a situation that should be unacceptable to every American.

These are just the military members making that sacrifice right now. What about the remaining veterans who have sacrificed for us?

The suicide data report for 2012 published by the Office of Veterans Affairs shows that 22 service members are committing suicide each day. They are 22 mothers, fathers, sons, daughter, brothers, sisters and friends not being able to live with the war they are still fighting. They ultimately become a casualty of the war they survived in the combat zone but could not win after they returned home.

The casualties of America's wars continue today even after the soldiers, sailors, airmen and women, and Marines have left Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and combat operations in Afghanistan have ended.

As Americans it is our responsibility and duty to live up to the promise given to those willing to sacrifice for our freedom. A small part of the sacrifice can be repaid through supporting the funding needed to help them overcome the obstacles they now face. Veteran's courts, drug courts and mental health courts are a tool that has been found to be effective in helping veterans suffering from mental illness. Fifty percent of Utah's funding for mental health comes from federal grants given to the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

A portion of that federal grant money is allocated through the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013. This act allows the Justice Department to award the grants for a broad range of mental health activities relating to the criminal justice system that include veteran, mental health and drug courts.

There is an increasing amount of evidence that shows how effective these courts have been in reducing criminal recidivism and violence related to mental health issues. Studies have shown a thirty nine percent decrease in recidivism and a 54 percent decrease in violent charges over an 18-month period.

The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act of 2013 has been stalled in both chambers of federal congress since June. We can all live up to the responsibility of paying back the veterans that have served us by contacting our federal senators and representative and asking for their support to fund the legislation. Please show your support for veterans and help them receive the care they have earned.

Kevin M. White is a Nephi resident and retired from the U.S. Army and Utah National Guard.