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Veterans' Suicides

People who have never served, or don't have family who have served, don't actually value their service

Don Zuzula

On Facebook, Legs McNeil recently posted a link to Ed Pilkington's 2013 Guardian article "US Military Struggling to Stop Suicide Epidemic Among War Veterans".

In 2012, for the first time in at least a generation, the number of active-duty soldiers who killed themselves, 177, exceeded the 176 who were killed while in the war zone. To put that another way, more of America's serving soldiers died at their own hands than in pursuit of the enemy.

Someone ignorant enough to confuse a "deferment" with a deployment then posted:

They join because they can't find a decent job, the government puts them out on deferment after deferment in a pointless, no win situation, then they come home, still no decent jobs.

One of the problems that veterans actually have is inherent in statements like this: civilians look down on military service.

Whether you think you do or don't, most people have a fundamental misunderstanding of how the military works, and what the day to day job of a service member entails. People who have never served, or don't have family who have served, don't actually value their service, the sacrifices that they have made in the name of doing their part.

Veterans are discriminated against in many instances because of this. The unemployment rate for veterans far exceeds the national average, despite the fact that these are people with years of work experience and leadership experience.

It has nothing to do with finding a decent job. The overwhelming majority of military servicemen and women join because it is their goal to serve the country, they have a military legacy to uphold, or they desire to help their country by giving themselves in service. The military is a good job though. It's more difficult to get into the military than into most colleges, you're held to a high physical standard for entry, subjected to a rigorous physical and mental health exam, and must take an aptitude exam, as well as having have a high school education just to be considered. Though the pay is terrible, the benefits of military service are unrivaled in the United States: free healthcare, life insurance, room and board, free or subsidized education; all holidays off, and 30 days of paid vacation per year.

Then there are the veterans' benefits like VA loans, the G.I. Bill for further education, and a ton of the "real world experience" that employers always claim to look for in candidates for employment.

The suicide rate is high because of the lack of purpose that servicemen ultimately end up with after service.

The big lie is that when you complete your term of service with the military that you'll be ahead of the game in terms of education and employability, and that the community will hold a little more esteem for you than for your peers. This used to be true in the years that we had conscripted service, but not in recent years.

In the military, a 22 year old normally has risen to a supervisory position, and he or she is literally in charge of activities that are life and death for both his own soldiers and the lives of civilians in their area of operation in a theater of war. There, they were in charge of millions of dollars worth of equipment and held accountable for it, and they're expected to maintain an extreme level of professionalism. They far exceed the responsibility level of their average civilian peers, but when they're released from service to re-assimilate into civilian lives, they're treated as if they had to take a job that was for idiots with no direction, by civilians who are twice their age and never had half of the responsibility that they have had.

In the Vietnam war, a soldier served one year, and then was sent home. Someone else was drafted to take his place, but he still had the same challenges that these young people face today. Multiple deployments are a function of the volunteer military that we have after dismissing conscripted service in 1974. The difference is that men and women today volunteered for service, and serve multiple deployments willingly and willfully, but can't be taken seriously when they get out.

Mental health is a part of the reason for suicides, but their depression and anxiety are dismissed too often until it's too late for them. It's more a lack of a compassionate support network, a stigmatism on mental health and an unfair struggle with being treated as if you're below average by society back home, when you're used to being held to a higher standard.

Don Zuzula is acombat veteran, graphic artist and songwriter/guitarist for Michigan's own Folk Punk group The Tosspints.
Image from the Tosspints' 2013 video Soldiers Heart.

Copyright © Don Zuzula. All rights reserved.