There is little in life that horrifies me as much as suicide. The very idea that people could consider ending their own life sends shivers down my spine. My feelings notwithstanding, almost 46,000 Americans died by suicide in 2020, the most recent year for which I could find complete statistics. Suicide is the twelfth leading cause of death in the U.S. Every day, approximately 125 to 130 Americans die by suicide.
The rate of suicides among veterans is substantially higher than that among the general population. Veterans account for of 13.5 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults but only make up 7.9 percent of the U.S. adult population. Why do so many veterans choose to die by their own hand?
Experts agree that the reason is Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI). That is the mental damage caused by participation in the savagery of combat on the battlefield. I call it a wound to the soul. Its symptoms are irrational rages, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and depression. I suffer from PTSI as a consequence of my years assisting U.S. and friendly forces during combat by providing signals intelligence on the enemy. I understand the feeling that the memories are so painful that I can’t stand to go on living with them. But I—and many like me—choose to continue living despite the anguish.
I’ve learned that the most effective antidote for PTSI is pride. I am justifiably proud of my service to my country and the lives I saved by tipping off friendly forces to where the enemy was, his strength, and his intentions. I counter my bouts of PTSI by reminding myself of the good I did on the battlefield. And I seize every opportunity to spend time with other combat veterans. We don’t need to talk. A look in the eyes, a quiet smile, and a firm but gentle fist bump to the upper arm is all it takes. That reminds them—and myself—that we are not alone.
In short, I understand why men who have been through combat might choose death over suffering through unbearable memories. But I know that life is a priceless gift to be cherished and honored. And I do all I can for my fellow veterans to help them live fulfilling lives.