I have personally known a few veterans that have taken their lives in the battle to overcome deep seeded personal emotional problems. Here in our western treasure valley, one young veteran who was so hopeful to help other vets, sadly ended his bright future under insurmountable emotional pressures.

Presented here is a very penetrating article discussing ‘veteran suicide’ by a military widow who lost her husband to suicide in 2005, a Marine Major who was preparing for a second Iraq deployment. Kim Ruocco now holds a master’s degree in clinical social work and has overseen the creation of the ‘TAPS Suicide Model of Support” program emphasizing the best approaches to care for survivors of military suicide.

“We see suicide in the headlines almost every day, most recently with another tragic veteran suicide on a VA medical campus in North Carolina. Recent CDC data shows national suicide rates are higher than they have been in several generations, and our military and veteran communities have suffered disproportionately. In a letter to commanders last week, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. David. L. Goldfein reported that 78 airmen have died by suicide so far this year, a rate alarming enough to spur the service to order an Air Force-wide safety-focused “stand down”. Additionally, the far smaller Marine Corps lost 77 of its own to suicide in 2018. Marking a 10-year high. Meanwhile, the Department of Veteran Affairs has reported that veterans from all service branches continue to die by suicide at a rate of roughly 20 every day. What is going on? Allow me to attempt at least a partial response.

Mrs. Ruocco continues, “One problem is that there is an excessive focus on suicide prevention. The standard response following death by suicide or increasing suicide rates is to double down on prevention efforts: reviewing risk factors, teaching warnings signs, and broadcasting crisis hotlines. Focusing solely on prevention may inadvertently stigmatize survivors, peers and providers with subtle messages of guilt, shame and blame. Highlighting what was missed, or should have been caught, may just reinforce the torment they are already wrestling with. Although prevention efforts are well meaning and part of the process, they do not take into account the devastating impact that suicide has on those exposed. A 2015 report issued by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention cited research that showed survivors of suicide loss are at increased risk of suicide themselves. A separate study conducted the same year by the National Institute of Mental Health found that soldiers belonging to Army Units with five or more suicide attempts in a year, faced double the suicide risk.”

The ‘TAPS” = Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, is a “Model of Support”, a non-profit, life-saving, best practices organization that Mrs. Ruocco helped found and is a vice president of, has assisted countless survivors of ‘military suicide loss’ and bases her recommendations on the compilation of data the organization has compiled, and she continues her article, “Taps is leading the way in a national call to action to do better in responding to suicide, in particular by codifying postvention as a standard industry practice. Postvention is a proactive intervention following a suicide that decreases risk and promotes healing for those exposed to the event.” “The most critical part of that model is the stabilization. Suicides are traumatic events for everyone, but especially for those who witness the deaths, discover the bodies, or provide cleanup at the scenes. According to the 2017 Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (or DODSER), approximately 76 percent of military suicides occurred either in the home, the barracks, a friend’s house or the workplace. This statistic highlights how many of our family members and service members are exposed to significant trauma, which can complicate grief and exacerbate existing mental and behavioral health issues in survivors.” To read the full article by Kim Ruocco, log onto the article published in the Military Times: https://www.militarytimes.com/opinion/commentary/2019/08/09/we-can-do-more-suicide-prevention-cannot-be-the-only-strategy/.

“Battling for our Wounded Warriors to have a better tomorrow for what they battled for US yesterday.” Roxanne Ward.

Ronald Verini is a local veterans advocate who writes a weekly column for The Argus Observer. He can be contacted at (541) 889-1978, help@veteranadvocates.org or 180 W. Idaho Ave., Ontario, OR 97914. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.

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