Active Duty Suicides Increase by 20 %; Not a VA problem but a DoD problem
DoD just released it’s 2nd Quarter suicide data and it shows a 20 % increase. According to the report, Marines had the highest increase, followed by Army. The sad part is after awhile the public becomes desensitized to this horrible news. What even more frustrated is the conflation that inevitably happens when we get this news. Everyone will start blaming the VA for not doing enough and all of the VA bashers will be part of the conflation. DoD is responsible for anything related to active duty service members including their medical care (TRICARE). VA has nothing to do with DoD, in fact that is part of the problem. VA and DoD have almost impenetrable silos between each other. They are slowly starting to work together but not fast enough for this current decade. DoD and VA are different in their terminology as well. What DoD calls Behavior Health, VA calls Mental Health. That distinction is important, because ordinarily DoD treats bad Behavior with punitive actions. If you are E-5 or higher you are discharged from the military if you get a DUI. E-4s and lower get a second chance and are offered substance abuse treatments.
I witness plenty of senior NCOs and Officers careers come to a screeching halt when they get a DUI. In fact, most Post Commanders has ‘DUI’ as a critical incident report (CIR), that goes directly to the Post Commanders.
I was part of the problem during my time as the company commander for HHC III Corps, Fort Hood, TX. During that time period I didn’t have the luxury of having a master level understanding in mental health. That wasn’t one of our Officer Development topics. I put several soldiers out because of getting a DUI and was privy to senior officers also being relieved of command after getting charged with DUIs. But I digress, that is something for another post *smile* I hope to correct this having Veterans Counseling Veterans provide mental health services to soldiers who demonstrated at least one Good Conduct term/enlistment.
DoD often gets a free pass when these numbers are reported because everyone is predisposed to blame VA whenever they see anything involving service. Understand the different is key if you want to establish accountability and solutions. Don’t waste your time writing your congressman who is on the VA committee (mine is Jeff Miller, chair of House Veteran Affairs Committee, and Gus Bilarkis Deputy of House Veteran Affairs Committee) VA and Jeff Miller, Chair), instead you have to write congressman/woman in the House Arms and Service Committee. Again that could be part of the problem. Sometimes the problem may have started while the service member was on active duty but doesn’t get any attention until in becomes a Veteran. Often times that is too late as most of us have learned when we try to claim service connected disabilities that may have occurred while we were on active duty and it was frowned upon and sometimes criticized if you went to sick call to get an injury examined. There is a serious disconnect between DoD policies and VA policies and the service member is usually the victim. What is the actual suicide rate for active duty service members? The 22 a day is a VA statistic (though debated). What is the process when a suicide is suspected? I can tell you the process is very secret and nontransparent, but no one complains about that. Why? Because they confuse DoD with VA. Suicide is not the only disconnect either. There are others like DUIs, eating Disorders, Depression, personality disorders, that list is long that is treated as a bad behavior that can result in reduced disability claims.
DoD is responsible for the suicides that occur while the service member is on active duty, Not VA.