- - Friday, September 12, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As a child I was taught never to make a promise I couldn’t keep and that a promise is only as good as the person who made it. Perhaps this is why I made a promise I consider to be one of the most sacred promises anyone can ever make; today 7 percent of this country has ever made this promise and less than 1% of our country is actively fulfilling the promise. It goes something like this:

“I, Dennis T. Davis, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God. “

This is the oath of enlistment for the U.S. military, it demands nothing less than full devotion to the mission you are assigned, including laying down your life at the altar of freedom should it be required. In return, promises were made to our veterans that they would be supported, in sickness and health, for as long as we shall live. To often these promises are broken before the signature on the oath of enlistment is even dry.

Recently veterans have been highlighted in the news, most notably with the scandalous and systemic corruption found within our Veterans Administration. These stories all lead to the same ending – broken promises. The integrity of employees seeking to do the right thing is overshadowed by a culture more intent on protecting their own interests rather than serving the American veteran. Leadership works harder to conceal failures than make good on the promises made to our veterans.

These same veterans face a much larger battle each day in this country and few outside the veteran community are even aware of this battle. So what is this battle? The answer is simple and shocking: suicide. Every day, 22 American veterans take their own lives. Twenty-two today. Tomorrow, 22 more. Another 44 this weekend.

During the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, there have been approximately 6,830 combat casualties. On 9/11/01, 2,996 souls were lost. In the last year, more than 8,000 veterans have taken their own lives, about 1,200 more than all combat casualties COMBINED. Nearly three times are lost now as were killed on 9/11.

Why is this? Broken promises play a critical role as veterans see VA incompetence and have little faith in a system to deliver on promises made. As the Stop Soldier Suicide organization states, veterans are “burdened with the stigma associated with mental health issues and the military “shame” surrounding Post Traumatic Stress, they instead turn to suicide as their only option to relieve suffering.” With delayed claims, patient waiting lists and so called death panels resulting in scores of deaths, it is impossible to accurately quantify those who have taken their own lives in the midst of this corruption.

The media and movies consistently portray PTSD as debilitating and dangerous, which accounts for many distorted and negative views of military service, especially related to PTSD. With veteran unemployment at or near all time highs, employers often assume most veterans have PTSD; they are broken, need to be fixed and it is easier not to hire them. If a veteran does have challenges with PTSD, they only get worse without gainful employment. Most veterans are not broken, don’t need to be fixed but they are forever changed. It is this change others fear in the veteran and they dwell on the negative aspect of change rather than embrace the veteran for their ability to live through trauma yet come out the other side stronger.

If change is desired, the broken promises must stop. VA middle and senior leadership must be held accountable and employees empowered again to do the right thing. This accountability will encourage veterans to pursue options outside of suicide in a culture they can learn to trust again. Additionally, PTSD discussions must also include suicide and unemployment; they are inextricably linked together. A three-legged stool cannot function without all its legs, nor can these issues be addressed individually. Finally, the stigma attached to veteran PTSD must end for veterans to seek the care they need without fear of the stigma.

Will YOU help change this?

Dennis Davis, a highly decorated veteran and PTSD survivor, is the producer and director of the film “An Epidemic Of Distortions” and author of “Not Your Average Joe: Profiles of Military Core Values and Why They Matter In The Private Sector.”

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