This past Saturday I had the privilege of speaking at the memorial service of a veteran who took his life at the age of 38 years old. It was truly a tragedy that left friends and families with a myriad of unsettling emotions. It represented to me what goes on all over our country each and every day when the severity of post-traumatic stress becomes so life-dominating that our veterans are unable to cope and then make a choice to end their lives.
The last recorded statistics from a couple of years ago still show that approximately 18 veterans commit suicide each day in America. That is almost 6600 lives taken per year. It is far too many for those who have served our country so faithfully and are tormented by the memories, brain dysregulation and impact of the trauma of war that is an everyday struggle to navigate.
In this case 4 children were left behind. I think of the impact this has had and will have on each child and on his extended family. I looked into sad and confused eyes of his friends and family who had many existential questions and thoughts about what happened and why. We talk about circumstances like this as statistics but sitting in the midst of such a moment was just heartbreaking.
This was an individual who was full of woe, filled with humor, had significant impact with his friends and was the life of the party. He was truly an entertainer and one who drew people to himself because of his charisma. However, he had a private world that was filled with images of war scenes that haunted him, left him in dark places and had significant neurological negative effects on his brain. It finally became more than he could endure, and he chose to escape in his own way and on his own terms very intentionally.
What is tragic and shocking is that so much of what was going on for him was hidden from those close to him. There was no military screening and little help for his significant level of trauma. As we often know our veterans relive some of the scenes of war they witnessed to the point that they become life-dominating. Without a long period of therapy this toxic stress and emotional wounding grows and becomes overwhelming. Yet, they appear to be quite normal and their trauma is undetected.
It is my hope that we will all become more aware of the individuals around us who are experiencing such trauma, particularly our veterans. We need to connect to them, talk to them, hear them and help them to get the help they need before the fatalism and fear takes over. We need better screening and therapy to be available to our veterans. They should not be alone. Rather they should be with family and friend groups that support them while they go through a significant therapeutic process to help them heal from their post-traumatic stress. For me it was a day of raised awareness of what this is like for families and communities to experience the impact of losing one of our courageous veterans who was in so much angst and despair.
I hope and pray that we find answers and help for these individuals who have valiantly given their lives for our country and for our safety in this very challenging world.