22 Suicides A Day!

Warriors Returning Home Face a Real Life Catch-22

catch22Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22 is a witty, ironic discussion of the double-binds or no-win situations our WWII troops faced due to the military bureaucracy. But here’s the thing: More than 50 years later, this double-bind hasn’t gotten any better. The term Heller coined to describe “no-win” military policies can still be used to describe many of the situations our veterans face as they return home from war. The latest Catch-22 for our heroes? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stigma in hiring.

In a recent New York Post piece, numerous veterans describe this Catch-22 in blatant terms: If they disclose that they suffer PTSD, the New York Police Department won’t hire them. But if they hide their PTSD from the military (and the NYPD, which receives the military’s medical files), veterans run the risk of losing their health care if the condition gets more severe.

One veteran said he passed the NYPD entrance exam in 2006, before his tour overseas. When he developed PTSD from the fighting and admitted it to the military, they shared that information with the police department. NYPD then disqualified him from serving on the force.

Although it’s understandable for a police department to require mental health screenings for officers who may have to use deadly force, that doesn’t change the fact that our veterans are in a devastating double bind. Our veterans still face dire jobless rates,and often turn to addiction or self-harm when they have nowhere else to go for help. Seeking help should be seen as honorable, courageous and an important step in taking care of one’s health; but because of the stigma surrounding PTSD, a veteran wears a scarlet letter as soon as he or she divulges any PTSD symptoms. It’s time for stigma to stop trumping our veterans’ strengths and virtue.

One way to decrease these ill feelings toward PTSD, a condition affecting nearly one-third of our troops is to ramp up public education efforts. Our veterans and their families aren’t the only ones who need to understand what it means to live with this condition; employers and other civilians are a big piece of the puzzle. When we teach employers and the public to understand and accept PTSD as a treatable condition, we are helping our veterans slowly break free from this stigma.

This is where PTSD stigma has gotten our Veterans!

22 Suicides a Day

Every single day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s 22 suicides a day, a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as that number is, the real number may actually be higher.

The VA researchers used death records from 21 states to come up with a 2010 national estimate for veterans of all ages. As a group, veterans are old. Military service being far rarer than it was in the days of the draft, more than 91% of the nation’s 22 million veterans are at least 35 years old, and the overwhelming majority did not serve in the post-9/11 era.

About 72% of veterans are at least 50. It is not surprising, then, that the VA found that people in this age group account for 69% of veteran suicides — or more than 15 of the 22 suicides per day.

What is contributing to the 22 suicides a day number: The veteran-suicide statistics are likely to become a topic on Feb. 13 when the U.S. House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs holds a hearing to explore whether veterans are “overcoming barriers to quality mental health care.”, Meanwhile, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit advocacy group representing more than 200,000 members, said the nation should be “outraged” by rate of veterans who are taking their own lives — nearly one per hour.

Volunteers in dark green hooded sweatshirts spread out across the National Mall on Thursday, planting 1,892 small American flags in the grass between the Washington Monument and the Capitol. Each flag represented a veteran who had committed suicide since Jan. 1, a figure that amounts to 22 suicides each day.

“We’ve waited too long to take on this action,” he said. Then, mentioning the 22 suicides every day, he added, “That’s an epidemic that we cannot allow to continue, 22 suicides per day is unnacceptable.”

The analysis found that the actual number of estimated suicides per day among veterans has remained relatively stable, ranging from 20 per day in 2000 to 18 per day in 2007 and 22 suicides per day in 2009 and 2010, the latest estimates available, according to a report on the study released Friday. The rate of suicide among veterans who use VA health care services has remained steady in recent years, at about 36 per 100,000.

Active duty suicides in the military jumped by 30% since 2008, with one soldier, sailor, or marine expected to commit suicide in the next 25 hours. Ex-military suicides also increased 10% over the same period to about one every hour.

According to Joachim Hagopian, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, “22 suicides a day in unacceptable, more military personnel died from suicide in 2012 than from fighting in Afghanistan and once they return home and become civilians they are killing themselves at a rate three times that of military active duty personnel.” The April 9th hearings are following release of a report the VA quietly paid $200 million to settle 1,000 wrongful death suits that were filed over a ten year period following 9/11. Hagopian believes the military has been trying to avoid public discussion of the military’s 22 suicides a day.

The Department of Defense 2014 budget states that as the US transitions out of the cost of being in Afghanistan, the Defense Department will be allocating increased funding for mental health programs for US soldiers and veterans. The Obama administration is hoping this will help to lower the more than 22 suicides a day.

With 22 veterans expected to commit suicide today (22 suicides), developing and expanding effective veterans’ mental health and social support systems must be a priority of the Obama Administration, Veterans Administration, and Congress. These men and women have given their best for America; it is our responsibility to provide the best for our heroes.

That’s 1,892 former soldiers who have killed themselves since the beginning of 2014, (22 suicides per day) according the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization (IAVA). But even that is a conservative number, some say, as there is no centralized system to track veteran suicides.

A recent poll found that more than half of post-9/11 veterans know at least one colleague who attempted or managed to kill themselves. For many, the list of friends lost to suicide is much longer. “How can we accept 22 suicides a day”, asked a Pentagon spokesman.

Mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing returning soldiers, but a deadly combination of indifference, stigma, red tape, and government dysfunction are to blame for the sobering numbers.

That was the message brought to Washington last week by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and their supporters, in their annual “Storm the Hill – 22 suicides” campaign, which aims to raise awareness among lawmakers about the struggles of returning service members. This year, suicide topped the list.

The TADSAW Catch-22 Challenge

vetwithdogThe Train a Dog Save a Warrior  (TADSAW) program serves the warrior, the family and the community, by providing the warrior with a K-9 rescue ‘Battle Buddy’ and the training and tools needed to become an accredited Warrior/Service Dog Team.

TADSAW additionally provides for the training of a Medical Alert Service Dog for any warrior’s immediate family, the spouse or children, surviving with compassion fatigue, secondary PTSD, or any other mental health issue diagnosed while the warrior was deployed or on active duty.

Whenever possible, TADSAW will evaluate the warrior’s personal dog, because the bond has been established, to determine the dog’s viability to be a service dog candidate.  If the warrior needs a dog, TADSAW’s trainers will go to a rescue shelter and evaluate and select an appropriate candidate for the warrior.  At that time the process will begin.

The program lasts from 15-20 weeks to train the warrior and dog team.  The first phase is focused on the skills needed to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizenship course, which is the benchmark standard in obedience for therapy dog work.  During the second phase, time is spent socializing the team in dog friendly public places.  When the trainer is confident the team is progressing sufficiently, the in-training Public Access work, in areas where only Service Dogs are allowed, begins.

The team will graduate and become accredited by TADSAW when the Public Access Temperament Test is given and the team passes.

A short answer as to the why and how…Petting a dog decreases release of cortisol and increases release of oxytocin into the bloodstream. Decreases in cortisol lower blood pressure and facilitate a sense of relaxation, while increases in oxytocin, this same chemical released when a mother nurses her infant, will facilitate a sense of security and well-being.

For warriors with PTSD, it has been documented that a dog helps with emotional regulation. Patients who are very anxious and have anger issues find they can’t work with a dog if they yell. They must have a calm voice. Working with a dog helps build confidence and bridge the gap with strangers. More often than not the response and the bond is immediate.

A female warrior with PTSD has sleep disorders and often awakens to find herself barricaded in her closet, behind duffel bags, with a knife. With her TADSAW SERVICE DOG she is able to sleep. Simply having a dog around allows the warriors to trust the dog to assess the safety of their surroundings, as the dogs have a much keener sensory capacity than people.

TRAIN A DOG~SAVE A WARRIOR. has found that a great majority of the warriors with PTSD choose a shelter dog because they want ‘to save something’. They may choose a dog with an injury because they have an injury too. They are both healing. They fit together. They are a team.

Veterans often suffering alone, seem to silence themselves because of the stigma still attached to psychological injuries like PTSD. The dog can calm them down and get their minds off of everything going on in their lives by focusing on the dog not themselves.

vetwithdog2There is life after injuries. This new quality of life just might be, in part, based on a PTSD SERVICE DOG. Here’s how TADSAW’S PTSD SERVICE DOGS can help.

A rescue dog from a shelter or the warrior’s own personal dog, if deemed appropriate in temperament, demeanor, and size, will be evaluated, enter BOOT CAMP, and be trained specific commands for specific needs of a wounded warrior with PTSD.

Once trained, these TADSAW SERVICE DOGS have the ability to decrease isolation of the veteran, decrease the needs for many medications, decrease anxiety and panic attacks when in crowded public places, awaken them from nightmares and flashbacks, ‘have their backs’ when necessary, to name but a few.

This extensive and costly training is at no charge to the warrior and his dog, with training lasting 3-4 months at the least. Once training is completed and the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizenship classification is awarded to the team, and after intensive training to meet the specific needs of the specific warrior, the dog will be eligible for service dog designation, according to the American Disabilities Act.

The team will carry the necessary health certificates and documentation and will be able to accompany the warrior to stores, restaurants, living accommodations, and permitting full access to any and all places the warrior wishes to visit.

Currently, veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the DC VA Hospital are adopting pets from the Washington Animal Rescue League. It is working!

For hundreds of wounded veterans, the long walk to recovery is often a lonely one. A long walk is something most dogs love.

The results from April 2014 are in and an all time high of 192 new applications for Service Dogs were requested and mailed out. To date a total of 66 of the new applications were filled out, completed, returned and received in our office. That’s 34% of the new applications completed and returned so to date. Those completed applications have been processed and are getting prepared to start their accrediation training programs. From August 2010 thru September 2011, TADSAW received a record breaking total of 244 new applications for Service Dogs.  As of April 2014 a total of 51 Service Dog Teams have already been accredited for the year with 192 new applications already received.

For TADSAW to continue to keep up with this kind of demand for Service Dogs (and it’s increasing every month) we need more DOLLARS donated now than at any time ever before. Especially if there are 1000 Teams in-training becoming accredited Service Dog Teams. I mean really BIG Bucks!!!! Like Six Zeroes big behind the comma. The Veterans really need your assistance NOW. Please help make a DREAM become a REALITY.  Your donation could possibly be helping to save a life.

‘Much of life can never be explained but only witnessed.” Rachael Remen, MD

The Difference between:  Service, Therapy, Companion and “Social/therapy” Animals.

Service Animals are legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered ‘pets’.

Therapy Animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have “no pets” policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.

A Companion Animal is not legally defined, but is accepted as another term for pet.

‘Social/therapy’ Animals have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.

For any information or an application please contact Program Director, BART SHERWOOD, at 210-643-2901 or bart@tadsaw.org.

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 Train A Dog – Save A Warrior Program
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