Saturday, July 31, 2010

More Than A Bandaid

The New York Times has a a compelling article on a typical evening at one Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hot line. It's sobering to see how active that call room is on any given night. It's also chilling. Suicide hot lines are by definition the last resort for those who are almost but not quite ready to end the suffering. That this particular unit is so busy indicates that our veterans are still not getting the help they need and deserve after their service.

Though suicides among active-duty service members are carefully tracked — they hit a one-month record, 32, in June — no reliable data exists for suicides by veterans.

But estimates, while not universally accepted, seem alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, veterans account for about one in five of the more than 30,000 suicides committed in the United States each year.

Under growing pressure from veterans groups and Congress, the Veterans Affairs Department in recent years has hired more than 5,000 therapists and counselors and established a system of suicide prevention coordinators at more than 150 medical centers.
[Emphasis added]

As the article points out, such hot lines too often are a kind of bandaid which merely covers a long-festering wound, one that should have been diagnosed and treated much, much earlier. Still, it's something which frequently works in both the short and the long term. For some of those who make that last call it works as a gateway to services which are finally available to those with the hidden injuries.

Perhaps if those services had been available a decade ago, that little call center in central New York wouldn't have been quite so busy. And perhaps if the military had gotten out of Patton-think and recognized post traumatic stress disorder as an injury as devastating as a blown-off limb, it wouldn't have been necessary at all. But neither happened, so it is, and that little call center and all those like it will remain busy.

OF course, if our leaders weren't so cavalier about starting wars whenever they feel the nation's pride is suffering or whenever the military industrial complex decides it needs a boost in government money, maybe those call centers wouldn't be necessary at all.

But, then, I suppose that's asking for too much.



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