Last week, the bipartisan Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act was introduced by Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), and co-sponsored by Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Mike Bost (R-Ill.). As a woman who served three tours, I breathed a sigh of relief seeing Congress step up and take action to begin to address our nation's worsening crisis of not properly treating Veterans with PTSD which has led to an epidemic of suicides.
The bill will require a review of the current training, workload and staffing at Veterans Affairs centers and comes a month after President Trump signed an Executive Order titled "National Initiative to Empower Veterans and End Veterans Suicide." According to the White House, this order mandates the establishment of the Veteran Wellness, Empowerment and Suicide Prevention Task Force. The task force will include the secretaries of Defense, Health and Human Services, Energy, Homeland Security, Labor, Education and Housing and Urban Development, as well as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, assistant to the president for national security affairs, and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD? It's a psychiatric condition in people who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event like a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war, combat, rape or any other violent personal assault. PTSD used to be called "shell shock" during the first World War and then it was known as "combat fatigue" after World War II. But it doesn't only affect combat Veterans. PTSD shows up in anyone, regardless of age, ethnicity, nationality or culture. Close to 3.5 percent of U.S. adults have PTSD. Women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD. Those of us who've had it can experience intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to our experience that last long after the traumatic event has happened. Unfortunately, PTSD is the No. 1 cause of Veteran suicides.
Recently, the media has highlighted a bump in suicide rates at VA hospitals, especially three cases in Texas and Georgia over a 5-day time period earlier this month. The VA has released data showing 23 Veterans took their own lives at VA facilities since October of 2017.
One issue, I personally experienced while visiting the VA, is that psychological help or counseling is only available once, and not with regularity or continuity. Just one and done.
All the way back in 2014, news of secret waiting lists for Veterans to get a medical appointment at Veterans Administration facilities was revealed. An audit unearthed rampant problems, including the fact that more than three quarters of VA hospitals and clinics had manipulated data about wait times. At the time, allegations arose about whether these secret delays led to 40 Arizona Veterans dying from lack of timely medical care by the VA. The controversy led to the resignation of then Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The main focus in all of this discussion has got to be on the tragic suicide epidemic that claims 22 Veterans lives every single day.
Over the past 17 years, more than 8,000 U.S. casualties have occurred in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Compare this to 8,000 Veterans per year committing suicide.
The real question is why don't we consider Veterans who take their own lives as important as soldiers who die in combat?
While deployed I watched wonderful Americans die serving our country. I also know many Veterans I personally fought alongside of who require regular monthly medical care for the trauma we experienced being on the battlefield.
The truth is we have to diligently raise awareness of military mental health concerns, improve access for to care during and after military service, and stop turning a blind eye to Veterans who never thought they would end up back home wondering why they're having crazy thoughts.
I would like to give a special thanks to Rep. Banks from my home state of Indiana for making this matter a top priority instead of just a campaign promise. Legislation is direly needed to enforce that my brothers and sisters are cared for after risking our lives for the rest of the nation.