The military-related suicide problem is not improving. In fact, the Department of Defense Quarterly Report on suicide suggests that the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. How could this be? With the expansion of services from the Department of Veteran Affairs and the influx of tens of millions of dollars, how are we not gaining traction on this problem? Maybe we should look at this issue a different way. What if we considered the possibility that mental health and even suicide itself was a symptom – the consequence of a different problem? I don’t say this to diminish the suffering and loss from this tragic issue, I say this to look more critically at the root cause of this problem, and in doing so, discover the solution we all seek to achieve.
When we initiate young men and women into our armed services, they endure a very regimented program of disciplined indoctrination. We call it basic training. We break down the recruit and build them back up as Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and Sailors. You have seen it – the kid that goes off to the recruiting station as the boy or girl you knew comes back in a pristine, sharp uniform as a professional military service member. It is a process that takes months, and for officers, this process takes years. In their military journey, we ask them to be warriors. We deploy them to very difficult places, and oftentimes, we ask them to touch the infinite. To do those duties reserved for a Higher Power. We give them the power to see the face of death and embrace the absolute condition of our humanity. This is part of the sacrifice we endure as part of the military. This is the burden all service members bare.
But what happens when we come home? What happens when we leave the service? I left the service twice – once in 2000 and again this past October. I will share my experience – I went to a transition center, completed a bunch of surveys, took some classes about my benefits, took a physical, completed a bunch of paperwork, and WALLAH! I am a civilian again. Why does it take so much to bring a person into the warrior culture, but so little to offer them back to the society from where they came? Maybe, just maybe, this is the root cause as to why so many Veterans are suffering in their life after service. Maybe the problem of suicide is a consequence of our failure to effectively transition our warriors, first from the combat theater and second from the warrior culture. Perhaps if we enabled a healthy process of transition, we could stem the growing problem of suicides.
This is not a new or revolutionary idea. The idea of the warrior’s journey is represented in cultures throughout the history of society. Once an individual enters the culture of the warrior, they must go through a process of transformation and atonement to return to society better and stronger than they were before. Maybe the reason so many Veterans struggle is because we short-cut that transition (handful of classes, a physical, few surveys, etc.). It took so much to get our sons and daughters into the service, why would we believe that a shortcut in the transition would be inconsequential? Our heroes want to transition. They struggle the wounds of PTS, moral injury, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even despair because they are trying to complete this journey, the cycle of the warrior, on their own. Maybe if we solved the problem of transition, we can Stop Soldier (Marine, Sailor, Airman, etc.) Suicide.
At Stop Soldier Suicide, we believe we all share the social responsibility of assisting our heroes in their transition home. Their transition back to those who love them. We believe that all our service members can return to society as stronger, empowered, purposeful leaders and contributors to their society. After all, shouldn’t they? They were the ones with the heart and character to volunteer for service, imagine the impact all Veterans could have if we unleashed the tremendous potential of these heroes across our communities. Call us (1-844-889-5610) or sign up at www.stopsoldiersuicide.org. Give us a chance to help you transition to the life you or your loved ones have earned . . . and together, we can Stop Soldier Suicide.
Jason Roncoroni, Executive Director