A Veteran Dies by Suicide Every 80 Minutes, VA Estimates

Photo courtesy of DCoE website.

“America is losing its battle against suicide by veterans and service members. And, as more troops return from deployment, the risk will only grow.”  – That’s the conclusion of a policy brief from the Center for New Security.

The authors, Dr. Margaret C. Harrell and Nancy Berglass, acknowledge there’s a lack of current data to determine veteran suicide rates accurately. But, they cite an estimate from a Department of Veterans’ Affairs March 2010 Fact Sheet:  a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.

An active duty military service member commits suicide every 36 hours according to a Department of Defense report that looked at suicides from 2005 to 2010 among service members in the Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard, Army and Marines.

The briefing paper looks at four things:

  1. Frequency of suicide within the U.S. Military and if it’s related to military service.
  2. Steps the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs should take to reduce suicides.
  3. Identifies obstacles to reducing suicide rates.
  4. Makes recommendations addressing each obstacle.

You can read the full Center for New American Security policy briefing – Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military SuicideHERE.


Veterans Helping Veterans: A New Mission for Civilian LIfe

Army Veteran Andrew Berry said his role as a Mission Continues Fellow has restored his sense of "mission and brotherhood" missing since he left active duty in September 2009.

Combat veteran Andrew Berry spent almost six years in the Army in the Infantry, Airborne, Air Assault and then as a sniper. He survived two bullets and eight bomb blasts when deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but the last Improvised Explosive Device (IED) left him too injured to continue his military career.

Like many combat veterans, Berry misses the sense of mission and the feeling of brotherhood he experienced while on active-duty.

It took a few years, but he’s found his “mission” in the civilian world thanks to the Mission Continues, an organization founded by a veteran Navy SEAL that emphasizes community service and helps returning veterans use their military training to become civilian leaders.

Berry was in Tampa Tuesday representing Mission Continues at the Home Depot Foundation “Celebration of Service” project – doing repairs and renovations at the K-9s for Veterans facility. It’s one of 200 service projects for veterans nationwide that Home Depot and Mission Continues are completing between Sept. 11th and Nov. 11th.

“I have four young boys at home, so it takes me to be a leader and show my kids that if I can adapt and overcome everything that happened to me, they can do anything,” Berry said.

Nearly 100 volunteers and veterans worked Tuesday to renovate the facilities at Tampa's K-9s for Veterans facility.

Here’s just a short list of what Berry has had to overcome. He is blind in his right eye, deaf, suffers from seizures due to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). His right leg was crushed. He wears a brace proudly. He has three slipped disks and a hematoma on his brain.

“Since I’ve been retired September 09, I’ve had seven friends, seven who served with me in Iraq, that committed suicide and that’s something I don’t never want to hear from someone else,” Berry said adding that he tried to commit suicide twice.

“For a while, I told my wife the best thing that could have happened to me was dying in Iraq,” Berry said. “I know how much it hurt her. She’s been with me before the military. She’s been with me after.”

Porsche is the service dog of Vietnam Veteran Mike Halley who founded K-9s for Veterans with his wife Pam.

And like many veterans, he said, he “would go back to Iraq in a heartbeat” because he misses having a mission and feels he should be there to support deployed troops.

But by helping with service projects like the K-9s for Veterans renovation, Berry is developing a new “civilian” mission as a veteran helping other veterans.

That’s what motivated Vietnam veteran Mike Halley and his wife Pam to start the K-9s for Veterans program. They say they’ve trained 50 service dogs for 50 veterans over the past three years. Sitting in a wheelchair with his service dog Porsche next to him, Halley thanked the Home Depot volunteers and veterans who came to help fix-up his kennels and surrounding buildings.

A new deck connecting ancillary buildings is one of the many improvements made by the Operation Continues veterans and Home Depot volunteers.

“All of this is for the veterans and we can’t do this without your help,” said a tearful Halley. “When Mission Continues and Home Depot got together, it’s just like God came down here and he’s in this crowd somewhere.”

There were almost 100 volunteers dressed in orange Home Depot t-shirts.Tampa district manager, Pat Dixon offered the crow a pep talk shortly after 8 a.m.

“Ready to have long fun day,” Dixon asked? “We’re here today to make a difference.”

They broke up into teams. One group laid sod and landscaped around the flagpole, others put up fencing while another group laid-down a deck.

Army veteran Berry, despite his leg brace, was ready to grab a hammer and start working, but he was in demand. Touched by his story, volunteers kept approaching him, wanting to talk and to thank him for his service.

“I know my place now is here helping other guys,” Berry said, “because not every person can understand where a veteran is coming from.”

Berry’s favorite saying is one he learned in the military – Adapt and Overcome – and he’s now applying it to his civilian life.

%d bloggers like this: