Before you read any further, be advised that this post addresses the topic of suicide and includes a link to an article which has graphic descriptions of events surrounding multiple suicides.
We hear about veteran suicides pretty frequently in the news or through social media. "22 a day" is a commonly heard expression of a one-time count of daily veteran suicides (the latest number is slightly lower). You may even know that veteran suicides are disproportionately high. That means veterans commit suicide at a higher rate than non-veterans. The non-veteran population commits suicide every year at a rate of 14 out of every 100,000 people. For veterans, that number is above 30.
VA does not know why veteran suicide rates are so high.
Very often, the only access veterans have to medical and psychiatric care is through VA. Sometimes this care is not good. Recently, a growing number of suicides have occurred on VA medical campuses or in protest to VA care. According to a recent Military Times article, nineteen veterans committed suicide on the grounds of VA medical facilities between October of 2017 and November of 2018.
And VA does not know why veteran suicide rates are so high.
Certainly, VA care or access to care cannot explain all veteran suicides, maybe not even most. But the Military Times article does not paint a pretty picture. In Georgia, there were two suicides on VA campuses this past weekend alone, and, in June, a veteran set himself on fire on the steps of Georgia's state capitol building to protest insufficient VA treatment.
The story that got me the most, however, was that of Colonel James "Jim" Turner. He was a Marine. He was an F18 pilot before he became an infantry officer. He led Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He served the final ten years of his approximately 30-year career at U.S. Central Command, and before he retired he rose to the rank of full bird Colonel.
But after years of inadequate care for his PTSD, he shot himself in a VA hospital parking lot. He was found on top of his records with a suicide note that said, "I bet if you look at the 22 suicides a day you will see VA screwed up in 90 percent."
A full bird Colonel! An Officer of Marines! How on earth could this have happened?!
He told us: VA screwed up.
I'm a veteran and, before I became a lawyer, there were times when I had to rely on VA for my healthcare. At those times, I usually felt lucky that I had any healthcare at all. And I do love the camaraderie down at the VA. But I also experienced ridiculous wait times for simple things, the occasional poor care, and the bureaucratic nightmare that delayed appointments or made it impossible for me to figure out what was expected of me (and something was always expected of me). And there were definitely times when VA screwed up.
At Rawls Law Group, this is our reality every day. Veterans and their families contact us all the time with horror stories. Sometimes, they received care that was very bad, even though it wasn't quite malpractice. And sometimes VA does utterly unforgivable things.
At Rawls Law Group, we can't fix things when VA screws up. But, very often, we can make them pay.
I just wish we could prevent them from screwing up in the first place. I also wish we could do something about the extraordinary number of veterans’ suicides.
If you are thinking about harming yourself, or know someone who is, please consider using the following resources:
1. National Suicide Prevention Hotline (this is not VA, but if you press 1, you will be routed to a veteran-specific responder): 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALk)
2. Text the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741
4. https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ (this has text and chat options, as well as the above Hotline number