Today concludes this week’s series, End of Watch: What Happens to Veterans Waiting for Help, our attempt to understand why so many U.S. veterans take their own lives. The rate has increased to 22 per day, far exceeding the number of military personnel killed in combat zones. At the same time, the number of former service members waiting for a response from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their mental and physical treatment topped out at 900,000 this year. The average wait time in some parts of the country is more than 600 days.
Daniel Somers clearly placed the blame on the shoulders of the government when he killed himself on June 10th after suffering PTSD and traumatic brain injury for at least eight years. Some veterans repeat the chant, “Delay, Deny, Wait til I Die.” Tom Tarantino of the organization, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, says 19,000 former service men and women have died waiting for their benefits in recent years.
But the factors that lead someone to commit suicide are complicated. A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that exposure to combat does not increase the likelihood that a service member will take his or her own life.
In any event, it’s clear that the backlog at the VA is causing undue stress and hardship on those who who have sacrificed greatly while serving our nation.
In June, Army veteran Daniel Somers took his own life after ten long years with PTSD and a lack of help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. His parents, Howard and Jean Somers, join Bob to discuss what happened before and after the suicide.
Dr. Gordon Williams is a clinical psychiatrist who recently resigned from the Department of Veterans Affairs due to frustration with management. It was a difficult decision, he says, but he’d rather return to private practice than continue to fight the treatment methods at the VA. He’s joined by fellow veteran Michael Swinford who helps give support to suicidal veterans while struggling with his own suicidal tendencies. Then, until December 2012 when he resigned in protest, Steven Coughlin was a senior epidemiologist at the Department of Veterans Affairs who was lead author on two of the biggest studies the VA has conducted on veterans of the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Dr. Coughlin says the agency intentionally manipulated and suppressed research data and failed to follow up with suicidal veterans, all of which endangered lives.
Justin Fraley is an Iraq War combat veteran with PTSD who’s struggled to get proper diagnosis and benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He and his wife Brittney are in marriage counseling in addition to his own therapy, which they are now paying for out of pocket. Then, Bob talks to reporter Aaron Glantz of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Through leaked internal VA documents, he discovered the full extent of the veterans benefit backlog and the incoherent reasons for it.