Nothing horrifies me as much as suicide. The prospect of someone deliberately and purposefully taking his own life makes me shiver. And yet, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47,511 Americans died by suicide in 2019 (the most recent year for which I could find complete statistics).
Especially distressing to me is the rate of suicide among veterans. In 2019, it was 31.6 per 100,000, nearly twice the rate among non-veteran U.S. adults (16.8 per 100,000). According to the VA, in 2016, about 58 percent of all veterans who committed suicide were 55 years old or older.
Why do they kill themselves? The only answer I can find is that veterans are more likely than others to have witnessed the level of human carnage that occurs on the battlefield. That means they’re more prone to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) and its manifestations—flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares, and irrational rages. Those are the symptoms of soul damage. There is no cure, and the memories are permanent. They never weaken or go away.
And the majority of veteran suicides are among men old enough to have served in combat in Vietnam.
I speak of PTSI from personal experience. Because of my years of assisting with signals intelligence on the battlefield, I know all too well what it is like to watch men die in ways too ghastly to describe. In the aftermath, I at first tried to escape from the visions that haunted me, to push them into my unconscious, and pretend they didn’t exist. But then they’d come back to haunt me when I least expected it. I finally learned that the only way for me to keep going was to face those memories head on, bring them into my conscious mind, and learn to live with them.
More next time.