Oct. 28 (UPI) — A new study from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America revealed more than half say know know a fellow post-9/11 service member who committed suicide.
The nonpartisan veteran organization had more than 4,300 IAVA veteran members participate in the study, a collaboration with George Mason University and Threespot Media. The findings were presented Thursday to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin during a meeting with other veteran service organizations on Capitol Hill.
While the survey is not representative of all veterans, it provides a glimpse into the challenges facing veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ranging from employment opportunities to reforming the Department of Veteran Affairs. Suicide was the most pressing issue in the survey.
IAVA found that 37 percent of respondents have thought about killing themselves, with 58 percent of IAVA members saying they know at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has died by suicide. Sixty-five percent said they know at least one veteran who has attempted suicide — a figure that is 18 percent higher than its equivalent in IAVA’s 2014 survey.
“This in-depth survey is essential for understanding the issues that are most critical to the IAVA Post-9/11 veteran community. The member survey breaks the stereotypes of veterans and explains the diverse challenges of the modern veteran,” IAVA CEO Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement.
“It is the deepest and most comprehensive survey done of this population,” Rieckhoff said. “Veterans issues continue to move further down the priority list of our country’s leaders. Yet veterans continue to be used as political pawns. This survey clearly explains what IAVA members need to hear from our commander-in-chief and all stakeholders, and what we as Americans need to demand from our elected officials and government leaders.”
A 2010 United States Census report put the number of Americans serving in uniform at 2.3 million, comprising less than 1 percent of the country’s total population. Less than 8 percent of the U.S. population has ever served in the armed forces.
Seventy-six percent of respondents do not believe troops and veterans are getting the care they need for mental health injuries — only 16 percent felt troops were receiving the adequate care they need.
The top three reasons IAVA members listed for troops and veterans not seeking out mental healthcare were the stigma of seeking help, the quality of care they have access to and military veterans not seeking care at all. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in the survey had a service-connected mental health injury, with 73 percent of them receiving treatment for their mental health injury and 27 percent not receiving care.
Additionally, 54 percent of IAVA members said they do not support full privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Twenty-six percent support the change. Reviews of VA services were mixed, with more than half rating VA services as very good or good. Twenty-five percent rated them as poor, and 10 percent as very poor.
Seventy percent of IAVA members said the American public supports veterans, with 39 percent agreeing that employers value hiring veterans seeking jobs.
However, the survey also reveals a perceived disconnect between veterans and the society they served to protect. The American public does not understand the sacrifice made by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, with only 16 percent agreeing that the citizenry understands This statistic demonstrates many veterans’ perceived barriers to reintegration into civilian life. In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction, a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally.”
The recent survey of America’s newest generation of combat veterans highlights not only the concrete challenges veterans face while transitioning to civilian life, such as unemployment and healthcare, but it also reveals a deepening cultural divide between the small slice of Americans who bear the brunt of war, and those for whom the wars are only, as Gates said, “an abstraction.”
Veterans struggling with mental health issues can contact the Veterans Crisis Line around the clock at 1-800-273-8255. Select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255.