Tag Archives: Veterans Suicide

Veterans Speak Out On War Cost Amid Middle East Tension

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division board a bus to be taken to a flight line as they deploy to Middle East on Saturday January 4th 2020 at Ft. Bragg N.C. Malissa Sue Gerrits The Fayetteville Observer via A.P.


Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost.”


“The images are horrific. His left eyeball seemed to float in the bloody, mangled mass that used to be his face.

A bomb tore through the front of U.S. Army sniper Robert Bartlett’s head as he rode in a Humvee in Iraq in 2005. The device was traced to the Iranian Quds Force led by Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

So when President Donald Trump ordered the killing of the general last week, it wasn’t exactly an unwelcome development for Bartlett. 

Bartlett, who’s now a motivational speaker and veterans’ advocate, and other veterans who have served in the Middle East agree on that much. They differ on what should happen next.

Army Sgt. Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment in Iraq in 2005.
Army Sargent Robert Bartlett was disfigured during deployment to Iraq in 2005 American Society of Plastic Surgeons

But their years patrolling in Humvees, enduring stinging sandstorms and dealing with extreme temperatures have given them important perspective as the nation – again – focuses its attention on conflict in the Middle East.

Some say the face-off with Iran, which retaliated with a missile strike on Iraq bases Tuesday night, has reminded the American public of the uncertainty service members and their families have faced for nearly two decades since the U.S. military first invaded Afghanistan.

Some say it’s time for Americans to cut our losses and bring U.S. troops home. Others say we need to keep our armed forces in place if it prevents another 9/11.

One message is clear: “Wars cost,” said Sherman Gillums Jr., a Marine veteran who was paralyzed as he prepared to ship out to Afghanistan in 2002. 

“If you want it or believe it’s necessary but can’t fight it yourself, at least be prepared to pay in some other way,” Gillums said. 

He is now chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, a nonprofit veterans’ advocacy organization with more than 250,000 members.

Make no mistake, Bartlett said: The United States is at war with Iran. 

“We can keep lying to ourselves and say, ‘Hey, we’re not at war with them, we don’t want to be at war with them,’” he said. “Well, they’re at war with us, so you are at war with them.” 

Ending the ‘forever war’

Americans may have pushed Iraq to the back of their minds as American forces there dwindled and Trump declared ISIS had been defeated. But veterans interviewed by USA TODAY said the recent hostilities with Iran are an escalation of a conflict that has been going on for years.

In 2001, when U.S. forces prepared to take a crucial airport in Afghanistan during the initial U.S. invasion, one of the first things they did was destroy the runways, said Joe Chenelly, a Marine veteran who took part. “So that the Iranians could stop bringing stuff in to them,” he said.

That’s why Bartlett reacted to Soleimani’s death the way he did.

“I just got overcome with emotion,” he said. “Reluctantly, I prayed for his soul and the others who were killed. … Then I went and celebrated with a 12-year-old Scotch and a cigar.”

Chenelly, who is now national executive director of AMVETS, said the organization has been in favor of ending the “forever war” for years. What happened in the past week, however, “obviously complicates things.”

Now, he said, the most important consideration should be ensuring the security of U.S. forces and the nation. But today’s highly charged political environment makes it hard, he said, for Americans to talk about how to achieve that. 

“It’s hard to talk about this and not be labeled as taking one side or the other – the political side, which really isn’t fair when we’re talking about life and death,” Chenelly said. “It’s a lot deeper than Rs versus Ds or vice versa.”

National Executive Director of AMVETS Joe Chenelly poses for a photograph Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Washington.
National Executive Director of AMVETS, Joe Chennelly Alex Brandon AP

Navy veteran Jeremy Butler said images of troops being deployed to the Middle East recently have returned to the national spotlight the realities of military life: “what it’s like to be on call, what it’s like to have family members quickly deployed, what it’s like to have the uncertainty of not knowing when you’re going to see your spouse or your parents again.”

Butler deployed in 2003 in support of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and is now chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which advocates for post-9/11 veterans. 

In addition to the 5,000 U.S. troops killed in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 50,000 have been wounded. Years later, those veterans require care by their families and American taxpayers.

Some veterans question what the U.S. is fighting for

Iraq combat veteran Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said what’s missing from the national conversation about recent hostilities with Iranis a strategy.

Rieckhoff, who unabashedly refers to Trump as “President Mayhem” on his podcast, said the White House and Pentagon need to articulate a clear strategy for the region beyond economic sanctions meant to pressure Iran into dropping its nuclear ambitions.

Trump on Wednesday pledged to impose more of those sanctions in response to Iran’s missile strikes. 0:151:20

Rieckhoff called Trump’s remarks nebulous. “Felt all over the place,” he tweeted. 

Trump’s address signaled a de-escalation from his earlier rhetoric, in which he pledged to strike Iranian cultural sites “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s killing. 

Veteran Army Special Forces officer Joe Kent wants the president to go further and pull U.S. troops out of Iraq – and away from Iran. That’s what Trump campaigned on.

“I would get all of our forces out of … striking distance,” he said. Kent deployed several times to Iraq. His wife was killed in Syria last year during her fifth combat deployment.

“If we do decide to stay in Iraq, either against the will of the Iraqi parliament or at the blessing of the Iraqi government, the question is, what are we fighting for?” he asked. “Are we fighting for the Iraqi government?”

Sherman Gillums Jr., chief strategy officer at American Veterans, or AMVETS, speaks during the 3rd Annual Vetty Awards at The Mayflower Hotel on Jan. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Sherman Gillums, Jr., Chief Strategy Officer AMVETS Paul Morigi Getty Images

Marine veteran Dan Caldwell agrees. He said keeping troops in Iraq is “insane.” Caldwell is senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a Koch-backed group that has supported Trump.

U.S. missions to eradicate ISIS and train and equip Iraqi forces are now complete, Caldwell said.

“The only mission our troops have in Iraq is guarding bases that no longer serve a purpose,” he said. “There’s no pressing national security need to have them there.” 

Middle East experts have said a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq could be disastrous, creating a power vacuum for both Iran and the Islamic State terrorist group to fill. 

And Bartlett, who was disfigured by the Iranian-made bomb in 2005, warned against such sweeping judgments without knowing what intelligence is guiding U.S. leaders’ decision-making.

The lessons of 9/11 are worth remembering, Bartlett said: A small group of terrorists can kill thousands of people. “So we’ve got to keep that in mind. When we don’t deal with it, then we lose a lot of civilians.”


Veteran Peer-Support Helps Prevent Crises

Image: “Military.com


“The tide of suicide in the United States is unrelenting, and the approximately 20 veteran and military suicides each day cannot be ignored.

Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.”


“To prevent these tragedies, the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, and leading mental health organizations aggressively target the critical moment of crisis when a person is contemplating the act of suicide.

These critical organizations are lined up in a strong “end zone defense,” providing multiple areas of support for veterans in the midst of a suicidal crisis.

But what about veterans who haven’t reached a crisis point? What if there was a way to provide relief for everyday problems, pain and isolation before these issues snowball into self-destruction?

As a retired major general in the U.S. Army, who has lost a son to suicide, and a son to the war in Iraq, I can attest that the key is to connect with veterans before they reach the point of crisis.

Veterans are often reluctant to speak with anyone who “won’t understand” when they’re dealing with depression or anxiety about life issues. Many feel the pressure to figure it out themselves and “stay tough” and are embarrassed to discuss their problems with finances, relationship issues, housing issues, family dysfunction, or feelings of loneliness and isolation.

The reality is they need a direct connection to someone who has been in their shoes, long before they need a direct intervention. They need a peer.

Everyone needs a support system. Peer support provides veterans that sense of immediate trust, and gives them a confidant they can connect with at any point in their journey.

I joined Vets4Warriors in 2013 to lead a 24/7 peer-support network that serves all veterans as well as the entire military community, from those who just put on a uniform to the caregiver and families of a veteran who has long since stopped wearing a uniform.

Our peers are veterans from every branch and every era, dating back to Vietnam, and 70 percent of our peers are combat veterans. We truly are who we serve.

Since inception, we have had over 325,000 connections with members of the veteran and military community who are dealing with life challenges before they turn into crises. Regardless of the complexity of the issue or how long it takes, our veteran peers continue to follow up, seek out possible avenues, and pursue different options until an answer is found. We go the extra mile. And that is often what veterans need to help put them on a path that does not lead to tragedy.

Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.

Yet even with resources like ours available, when it comes to certain demographics of veterans, the rate of suicide is growing.

According to the most recent report on veteran suicide published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate of young veterans, those aged 18 to 34, increased more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016. The largest number of suicides remain among aging veterans, since the majority of veterans are 55 or older.

Research has found that many suicides are decided impulsively, with less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt. In other words, there is yet a brief moment in time in which we can intercept someone’s fateful decision. This is why it is critical to get upstream and tap into the power of peer support to help veterans grapple with their problems, challenges and even opportunities long before they find themselves in crisis.

Vets4Warriors is a connecting network; we connect with individuals and also connect them to resources, preferably in their communities, and then we remain connected as we follow up with them regularly.

I have seen this type of scenario play out many times with our peer-support network. An active-duty soldier from Fort Bragg struggling at work called Vets4Warriors and described how his marriage and children were suffering as he dealt with his PTSD. After speaking with one of our peers, he agreed to go to behavioral health services on post as well as to speak to the chaplain. During the first follow-up call, he stated that his peer at Vets4Warriors had been a “blessing to him.” The follow-up calls continue.

Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” once said: “We live in the most connected time in the history of the world, yet we’ve never been more disconnected from the things that matter the most.”

It makes a critical difference to immediately connect with someone who has walked the path and knows what you’re going through.

Peer support is vital for saving lives across our nation. We should all seek to always be there for those who hit tough times and struggles, whenever they may happen. Vets4Warriors is available 24/7 and we answer the phone live.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is director of Vets4Warriors. Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. If you want to speak with a peer, call Vets4Warriors at 1-855-838-8255, visit http://www.Vets4Warriors.com or follow us on social @Vets4Warriors to learn more.”


A Veteran Suicide Every 72 Minutes



Photo: Shawn Thew, epa

“USA Today”

“It’s a pace of killing unknown to most Americans and a source of national shame.

In one narrow category — 18- to 24-year-old male veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and were VA patients — the suicide rate was 10 times the national average for all people.

Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care.  A 46-page suicide analysis released by the Department of Veterans Affairs last month reveals just how swift this current of self-destruction is flowing, particularly for young veterans fresh from war.

A veteran is choosing death every 72 minutes, and the VA could be doing more to keep that person alive. When veterans manage to ask for help, too many of their calls are not getting through to VA’s suicide hotline (800-273-8255). The agency isn’t offering enough veterans the kind of cutting-edge treatment therapies that researchers are finally uncovering.

The statistics tell the tragic story. Veterans in 2014 were killing themselves at three times the rate of civilians and at a quickening pace, up by a third from 2001 to 2014. Most self-destructive are young male veterans in their 20s, who are dying at four times the rate of their civilian peers. Female veterans were 2.4 times more likely to choose suicide than civilian counterparts.

The dying is relentless. Iraq War veteran Tom Young, 30, lay down on Illinois train tracks last year after failing to reach someone at the VA hotline. Former police officer and Navy veteran Peter Kaisen, 76, shot himself in the parking lot of a veterans hospital on Long Island last month.

Young died at a time when some calls into the VA hotline were actually going tovoicemail, a problem since repaired. But too many calls today still roll over to less-prepared backup centers outside the VA.

The agency’s mammoth bureaucracy, second only to the Pentagon, has been slow to embrace new ideas, chief among them managing the urge to commit suicide and not just treating underlying illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.

When this kind of skills training is tailored to the individual veteran, it can be extremely effective in reducing suicide, according to Craig Bryan, head of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah, and other scientists. The VA needs to move faster on this science, and on fresher ideas such as behavioral health clinics devoted to managing coping skills, much like dialysis centers manage kidney disease.

To be sure, the issue is complex, and VA has made progress: expanding mental health care staffing; developing computer algorithms to single out hardcore suicidal cases for special care; and pushing private doctors to query veterans about the emotional impact of their military service.

Of 20 veteran suicides daily, just six were enrolled in VA health care. The others either chose against going to the VA or were ineligible for its care.

Easy access to guns is another part of the problem. Two-thirds of male veterans who commit suicide use a firearm, compared with 52% of male civilians.

The answers to veteran suicides are “not meeting the demand,” says Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “We often compare it to the early days of the AIDS crisis, when the gay community especially felt like their friends were dying left and right, and people weren’t paying attention.”

Attention must be paid, by the presidential candidates and everyone else.”