By Raymond P. Bondad,
Every year, thousands of men and women exit the military with hopes for a new life for themselves and their families. Yet with economic instability and high unemployment rates, many of America’s protectors are being unprotected after their service is complete.
Even after President Barack Obama’s call for employers to hire and train veterans, there has not been an influx of veterans joining the work force. For many, it’s a manageable struggle. But for others, the only option appears to be suicide.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes. In July 2011, the U.S. Army reported 33 deaths by suicide among the active duty and reserve components. (An accurate number of suicide rates in all branches of the armed services is difficult to obtain due to insufficient current data.)
Economic struggles are not the only reasons a veteran may consider suicide. In many cases, veterans feel alone without anyone to talk to who understands.
“The support system that was there when they deployed isn’t there, so many veterans revert to suicide or negative, self-destructive behavior,” says Joe Henderson, an Air Force veteran enrolled at California State University at Northridge. “The first thing I would do is make contact with that individual and remind them if they need me, I am here for them just like I would have been if I were deployed with them.”
The transition to civilian life was difficult for Alex Natividad, an Army veteran from Indio.
“Though my time in the Army had more downs than ups, I felt important that I was contributing for my people. I felt I had a purpose greater than my own,” says Natividad. “When I got home, nobody ever asked how they could help. Only questions I ever heard were did I kill anyone and how was it over there. I felt very alone, far away from my brothers.”
Natividad has since found something positive to focus on: mixed martial arts.
“MMA has given me that feeling of acceptance and camaraderie that I had in the Army. In a sense, my partners and I are getting ready for war and all we have is each other,” he says.
Veteran suicide is a close and personal subject to me. I am an Army veteran who has been deployed to Iraq and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Fortunately, I failed at my attempt at suicide and have found a new love which has deterred me from having thoughts of suicide due to loneliness and life’s struggles. I have also found that I love journalism and mass media. Instead of painting my feelings on canvas and flashing back through my pains, I take newspaper writing and radio broadcasting and create a whole new world of experience for myself. When I’m on the air at KCOD Radio (College of the Desert), I’m able to be very creative and share it with the world in a very positive way. I’m also the editor of the opinion page and have my own column in The Chaparral, College of the Desert’s student newspaper. I use this as an outlet to entertain readers with my incisive insights on the world around us.
“Suicide is never the answer, but I hit such a low point in my life that no matter what you do, even ‘suck it up and drive on’ eventually fails. What didn’t help either was training for combat. No one teaches or has a manual to shut (problems) off or deal with it,” says Natividad. “It has taken me six years to finally readjust and it’s been hell.”
As a veteran who has served, has gone to battle, divorced, and has experienced many hardships, I urge every veteran in need of help to call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There’s a self-check quiz that will help you figure out if your feelings are related to PTSD or depression. There’s more to life than war. It’s time to utilize the programs and benefits that will help us transition back to life as a civilian. Find your strengths and build on them.
If you know a veteran who is in danger of hurting themselves, please ask them to visit www. suicidepreventionlifeline.org.