If military leaders want to stamp out the social stigma of psychological illnesses, it has to start with the commander-in-chief, writes vet Mike Purcell.
As Memorial Day approaches, Purcell, the father of a Navy vet who died by suicide in 2008, questions why President Obama is not writing personal condolence letters to the families of suicides. Purcell is also behind the Putting a Face on Suicide project.
As suicides rise among service men and women, and the nation comes to grips with the reality of their psychological wounds, why should they be accorded any less honor than those who have died of physical injuries, Purcell asks.
“This Memorial Day please remember those we have lost on ‘the other battlefield,'” Purcell writes. “Their service mattered greatly, as did they. Their families deserve to be recognized with dignity and respect, in their time of profound loss.”
Purcell is far from alone. In a raw stream of posts at the Disabled American Veterans’ Facebook page, vets — some who have attempted — and family members are raging against the unwritten condolence letter policy and what they see as deficient services for veterans.
Patrick Spry calls the policy “disgusting,” adding, “I myself have lost friends, veterans, to suicide. They themselves were honorable men for standing up in a time of war. They deserve full respect for there actions they took for our country. This memorial day we should honor all deaths. Suicide or not… RIP our brothers in arms.”
Jonathan Lubecky writes in a dispairing post: “If you return with a missing limb, or visible scars your a war hero, if you come back with PTSD or a TBI, your just crazy, and broken. I view myself as just another broken old SGT who has outlived his usefulness. I have to come up wth a reason everytime I get kicked to the ground to get up. I have been rejected by everyone, and everything. The military, the VA, the Government, work, woman, my ex-wife. I am running out of reasons.”
At the same time, the nonprofit Blue Star Families has recently premiered a public service announcement to raise awareness and fight the stigma attached to seeking help for depression and anxiety.
“There’s absolutely no reason for anyone to suffer in silence,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli said recently. “A soldier who is hit and injured by an [improvised explosive device]would never go untreated, and there’s no difference.”