Today is “National Warrior Call Day,” and Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. Richard Hudson are spreading awareness about active duty and veteran suicide and why people should participate in the call day.
Since 9/11, about 7,057 service members have died during military operations, but in the same time period, 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans have committed suicide. That’s more than four times as many. And the numbers keep rising. According to an annual report from the Department of Defense (DOD), the suicide rate among active duty service members in the U.S. military increased by 41.4% from 2015 to 2020.
As of 2019, veteran suicide rates were at about 17 per day, according to the office of mental health and suicide prevention. Those veteran numbers do not include data on the impact of COVID-19.
The Warrior Call organization worked with Congress and the White House to designate Nov. 21 as “National Warrior Call Day” to draw attention to service members, veterans and first responders who may be disconnected from family, friends and support systems and are in need of help.
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In a news conference Nov. 16, Tillis and Hudson said changes need to be made in how the DOD and Veterans Affairs handles possible cases where mental health may be a concern.
“We have got to look ahead and recognize that this truly is an epidemic,” Tillis said. “The suicides, especially among post-9/11 veterans, are simply unacceptable.”
Tillis said many military personnel may receive something other than an honorable discharge due to behavior and become lost in the health care system. Tillis said he wants to go back to those records and distinguish what caused those discharges.
“We need to go back through those records and really distinguish between veterans who had a behavior that clearly warranted a discharge and veterans who may have been discharged just because their behavior changed as a result of PTS, traumatic brain injury or some other battlefield wound, visible or invisible, that causes them to go into suicide crisis,” he said.
Tillis also said he wants to see a change in the stigmatization of seeking mental health help in the military.
Some work on this has already been brought before the U.S. House of Representatives. The “Mental Health Stigma in the Military Act of 2021” was introduced before the House this year. It contains a pilot program that will survey access to mental health care under the military health system. It would run until July of next year.
President Joe Biden also put out five steps for combating suicide among active duty service members and veterans this month. When asked about the president’s steps, Tillis said he supports having as much input as possible but suggested having immediate action items in addition to systemic change.
“We really have to accelerate the pace,” Tillis said. “One thing we need to do is early interventions while maybe we come up with systemic changes.”
Tillis said he definitely wants to see change in the setup for service members to transition into civilian life.
“We have got to get the Transition Assistance Program down to an audience of one,” he said.
The senator said he wants to see programs designed for individuals that address that person’s specific circumstances instead of painting in a broad brush and assuming each person will cope in the same way.
Congressman Hudson said he hopes people will take the National Warrior Call Day as an opportunity to check in on loved ones, friends or even people they haven’t spoken with in a while. He said recently there has been an increase in the calls, texts and chats coming in to the crisis lines specifically for veterans. He stressed that now is a crucial time to reach out.
According to Hudson, “What we have seen is the most powerful medicine, if you want to use that term — is one person checking on a buddy.”
The Veterans Crisis Line is 800-273-8255 or people can text 838255. There is also a Military Crisis Line for active duty service members.