Before I deployed to Iraq as a U.S. soldier, I naively thought I would come back home not much different than who I was before I went overseas. But war changes you—there is no way that witnessing something so extreme, as I did for the 15 months I was deployed, can not impact the human psyche.
The Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that, every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. I personally have known more soldiers who committed suicide than who were killed during deployment.
A 2014 survey conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 40% of veterans have known at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide, and 31% have thought about taking their own life since joining the military.
The same survey also reported that three out of four members said they have a mental health injury and are seeking help. To be an effective soldier, you have to have a certain level of emotional numbing. But this conditioning is hard to shed post-deployment. The act of feeling takes a lot of courage, and to say you need help takes even greater courage. I salute those who seek it.
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I am proud of America for stepping up to the challenge of helping veterans who come home—and for listening to their stories.
In 2012, President Obama signed an executive order designed to prevent suicide among the veteran population. He increased the availability of the Veterans crisis hotline to 24 hours a day, seven days a week, via phone, text or online chat. He stated, “long deployments and intense combat conditions require optimal support for the emotional and mental health needs of our service members and their families.”
In 2013, he committed $107 million dollars for mental-health treatment for veterans with PTSD.
This Memorial Day, I honor my brothers and sisters in arms who have given their life in and out of war—and those who struggle with their demons and have the courage to seek help.
On May 30, flowers all over the nation will be in blossom; pick one for a veteran who sacrificed their life to keep you safe.
Supriya Venkatesan is a freelance writer and a U.S. Army veteran who served six years active duty.