According to the Veterans Administration (VA), we lost 470 veterans to suicide in California in 2018. That is 470 too many. September is Suicide Awareness Month. It is a month that quietly ends summer and brings into focus for many veterans all the people lost over the years. I have had young Marines who were suicidal, and I have seen the stories of generals and admirals who have taken their life. It is a horrible solution to the hopelessness that affects many veterans from ages 18-99. I live in hope that I can save just one.
There are a lot of reasons why veterans take their lives at a rate higher than the national average. Many veterans come from high-risk backgrounds with abusive childhoods, broken families and early alcohol abuse. Add to that the reprogramming of your brain and body to focus on mission not self, the social isolation that comes with endless deployments and the dozens of family birthdays and holidays missed. Then there is the return to a civilian life where all you see is self-interest, bickering and a loss of camaraderie; a world that feels like it does not understand or care about what is takes to keep this country free. So, to numb the pain, there is more alcohol and maybe drugs, more isolation and deeper hopelessness. Some seek help but find the VA too slow or not responsive and a civilian mental system that is expensive and frustrating to navigate. And soon they say enough.
The good news is it does not have to end that way, veterans groups like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars can get veterans of all ages engaged in community activities and eliminate social isolation. Equally as important, through camaraderie, they can get veterans physically active again, back on the trails and in the gym, to get more dopamine into the brain.
If you have a veteran in your family or maybe your neighbor, of any age, and you see that they are struggling, invite them on a long walk and just listen. Then call me, I will be there to help.
John Gabbard, Laguna Beach