In light of recent events, I decided to write this letter as a plea to our government, American citizens, and fellow veterans. September is suicide prevention month. As we approach the anniversary of 9/11 and observe the events unfolding in Afghanistan, we stand on the precipice of yet another disastrous mental health crisis for America’s Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.
The United States has been at war in some capacity or another for the last 20 years. In those 20 years, anywhere from 1.9 - 3 million troops have served in post 9/11 combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than half of those have deployed more than once in support of those missions. A statistic that is commonly cited around veteran suicide is that roughly 22 veterans die by suicide every day (or one every 65 minutes). In 2012, more veterans died by suicide than died in combat. To say that veteran suicide has been and remains an important issue, is an understatement.
Having served in Afghanistan recently, the feelings of frustration, betrayal, hopelessness, and anger are all too real. Getting out was the only answer, we couldn’t stay there forever. At this point, the Afghan people will be the ones to determine their future and their fate. However, the veterans of these wars will continue to carry the burdens associated with campaigns they could never win.
Admittedly, we don’t have it as badly as some of our brothers and sisters from the past (namely the Vietnam era). We enjoy broad support from the public and don’t face the same challenges veterans returning from that conflict did almost 50 years ago. However, moving forward, we will need that support more than ever.
As I write this, the crisis is already unfolding. Bryan Riley is the most prominent example, nationally, of a veteran who may have been in need. I challenge all who read this, citizens, soldiers, commanders and government officials alike. Do not forget your friends, family members and fellow soldiers. Check in, provide support, limit judgement and point them in the direction of people who can help. The war is over, don’t let it continue at home.
Adam Douglas Pascale, Saratoga Springs