Military Wire: In last decade, U.S. veteran suicides top Vietnam War fatalities

For those who know me, I am a true believer in the principle that we all can overcome. It takes work, and at times it is really ugly — like, brutally ugly. When I sit with combat veterans, I can feel it. And when I sit with the families, I can feel it. And while I can claim to be an overcomer, I can’t imagine losing my children or my spouse. I can say that I’d be a trooper through that experience, but I don’t truly know.

What I do know is that no trial, tribulation or circumstance has gotten the best of me or those whom I’ve been honored to sit with, interview and build life with to date. But that is not the case for more than 60,000 of our U.S. veterans. Since 2008, that’s how many of our country’s veterans have taken their own lives.

A 2019 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) revealed that more U.S. veterans have died by suicide between 2008 and 2017 than died during the entire Vietnam War.

If you recall, the Vietnam War lasted from 1955 to 1975, claiming more than 58,000 American lives, and until recently, was the longest American War.

In one decade, more than 60,000 U.S veterans have taken their own lives. I’m not here to debate the method — it is true that more than 70 percent of male veterans used a gun; more than 40 percent of female veterans the same. When one loses hope and chooses to end it, the method doesn’t really matter — the outcome is the same.

And the impact is often widespread and generational.

When one of my friends returned from a combat tour, we met at a restaurant down by Joint Base Lewis McChord and after the small talk, he put his fork down, looked at me straight-on, and shared that his sole purpose for going on his second deployment was to commit suicide. Fortunately, thoughts of how his son would take the news stopped him from pulling the trigger. And he asked me, “What can you do to fix this?”

I can do my part, like we all can. I am not a therapist. I do have a great therapist though — primarily to help me deal with the line of work I am in. My team develops great programs and we have been quite successful at helping military and veteran families get back on pathways to personal and professional success — however they define success. And I hear the stories. Lots of them. Thousands of them.

And when you break through the shell — the armor of being strong and without weakness — you’ll find that more than 60 percent would seek some sort of support network or therapy or counseling, if there wasn’t a stigma attached to it.

This is why my non-profit pledged $500,000 to support the Veterans and Families Health and Wellness Center at the Multigenerational Edmonds Waterfront Center. That is a big number for us. A scary number — but what is scarier is to do nothing. You can join us. Help us reach that number. All it takes is for 40,000 of us to give $12. One dollar a month.

We’ll work with NAMI and the Cohen Clinic and others to ensure that there is support at the Waterfront Center — so when those breakthrough moments happen, when they gain hope again, they can walk out those doors and experience the beauty many of us enjoy daily — without the stigma of “going to a clinic.”

If we all do our part, perhaps the next decade won’t be as heartbreaking.

— By Mike Schindler

Edmonds resident Mike Schindler is the founder and chief executive officer of Operation Military Family Cares –– a 501(c)(3) veteran service organization and technology provider that combats veteran homelessness, while working to strengthen relationships and equip communities and families for success.



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