Cliff Wright – The best ideas for reducing veteran suicide

Editors note: Cliff Wright wrote this essay in our UnDiagnosing Emotional Distress Facebook discussion group. We’d love you to join this group – We are talking about how to create a language that can move beyond labels and medications and the disease model of emotional distress. This discussion on reducing veteran suicide gave us all some new ideas. The participants gave us permission to reprint their comments.

Corinna West: “What is the best way to help veterans? For reducing veteran suicide? If one vet dies by suicide every 80 minutes, what is the solution to that problem?”

The Chocolate Fairy visiting homeless veterans in KC. Treating people as humans is one of the best ways for reducing veteran suicide.

The Chocolate Fairy visiting homeless veterans in KC. Treating people as humans is one of the best ways for reducing veteran suicide.

Gwen Broz: (Another blogger on this site): “Veterans have very compressed emotions and stories that very few can listen to. We can start reducing veteran suicide by hearing their stories and by being a container for them to experience their emotions.”

Kenyatta Yamel: “Hire peer specialists at good wages and work with community groups of new vets organizations.”

Look at the root circumstances behind the problem:

Clif Wright: “First … the comments by Gwen and K are right on the mark, to which I’d add that there are veteran’s and then there are combat veterans, the latter of which having known the true nature of war have been traumatized and in ways both gross and subtle, been changed by the experience. They are the veterans this crisis is directly devastating. Second … the VA is seeking to hire a whole new cadre of peer specialists, 800 in fact and another 700 – 1k professionals as well.

The hiring and deployment of which will not solve the problem or start drastically reducing veteran suicide. To be extremely effective at reducing veteran suicide, we need to drastically change the circumstances from which the problems emerge. You see, hiring more doctors and peers is useful, probably wise and maybe even necessary. But it is not what will redirect the forces we need for reducing veteran suicide, no more than if we did that one thing for the mental health system as a whole.

Understand the extent of the problem:

Clif Wright:  Corinna, two words in your query point to what matters most, that is if resolving the crisis and bringing peace and balance to the traumatized lives is the actual desired end…. “if” and “solutions”

Poetry for Personal Power in Warrensburg, MO. Connecting with emotions via arts is extremely effecting for reducing veteran suicide.

Poetry for Personal Power in Warrensburg, MO. Connecting with emotions via arts is extremely effecting for reducing veteran suicide.

First the “if”……veteran’s are and have been commiting suicide at about 18 per day since 2004, more are dying and will die at home than on the battle field, suicide is now the #1 or 2 cause of death for active duty military members, the VA is swamped and some vets have had to wait as much as 2-3 months for a first time visit with a mental health provider or doctor.

And this is just the very tip of the iceberg… as many as 50 vets with MH issues are incarcerated/criminalized and turned over to the privatized prison system daily vs recieving care. Women vets are now just about the fastest growing group among the homeless. These are often women vets with kids, many of whom are also trauma, rape trauma victims per assualts while serving.  You have to look at all these groups when working on reducing veteran suicide. And like with all icebergs the mass is below the surface… characteristically only the top 10% of an iceberg is visible….

The first step is to drop the if and, as a society, as individuals, take a long hard look at what our vengeful hearts have brought upon us… upon our defenders, their family’s and our nations soul… There is no “IF” there is a life and death crisis occurring that is largely invisible and pretty much being ignored or given short shrift by most of us… and what is not acknowledged cannot be addressed…The first step to reducing veteran suicide is to start talking about it.

This is a crisis we created and yet no one owns or takes responsibility for it, or for its being wholeheartedly addressed. The wars and the decisions to begin them are happening out there, somewhere, by, with, to, “them”, over there….. to ‘veterans.”   Even within the Consumer/survivor community there is really no action commensurate with the scope and urgency of this crisis within the crisis that is the existing national mental health debacle.

Peer specialists can help, but are they all that is needed for reducing veteran suicide?

Kenyatta Yamel: “I would make sure to have a mix of combat and non combat vets working with vets and I think the new GI Bill is a great step. In programming to assist with traumatic brain injury and PTSD, I would see the VA as a service coordinator linking up with the best available services. This approach might be most effective in rural communities or reducing veteran suicide.”

Animal training has been a very effective way for people to connect with emotions and for reducing veteran suicide. Here Allison Quinelle poses with her Rottwelers.

Animal training has been a very effective way for people to connect with emotions and for reducing veteran suicide. Here Allison Quinelle poses with her Rottwelers.

Corinna West:  “I’ve realized that adding peer specialists to the bottom rung of a broken system won’t change much above it or do that much for reducing veteran suicide. That’s why I’m trying to create a nationally scalable stand – alone peer support website with a full menu of helpful options, affordable to even homeless people. That’s the vision. I get closer every day.”

Clif Wright: The VA per the Obama admin. is/ has been doing what you suggest and is currently in the process hiring 2500 mental health workers to meet the burgeoning demands – 800 of whom will be peer specialists. Google President Obama’s latest Executive order re: vets and mental health. Its impressive and unprecedented for vets and consumers period.  Arguably, more has been done on his watch for vets in general and consumer vets specifically, than the last 6 Presidents combined, particularly when you factor in Mrs. Obama’s and Mrs Bush’s family initiatives…

Here’s the flip side of the equation… vets support Romney /Ryan by 20% points… funny… not! The most wide spread and effective improvements to vets supportive services since the G.I. bill and vets support the dudes who have publically said they will cut their services off the top, asap, by 15%… starters… HUH??#*!… Which goes to the point about “if”… if people don’t know whats up; they really don’t know whats up and its a set up for some really, really ignorant choices.

Real solutions for reducing veteran suicide:

Clif Wright:  Corinna,  it’s late but I’ve gotta comment on the second word… “solution”…. succintly… there is no “solution” but there are many solutions.  Solutions to the horrendous suffering vets are experiencing… Do Exist… solutions do exist. This is so for most of the challenges and problems that go hand and hand with mental illness , both temporary and chronic. There are many ways to intervene and avert much of the suffering and loss and many who could truly recover and achieve viable independence. But as a society we haven’t figured that all out yet and we remain pretty much blind to the full range of resources and possibilities available to us … now.

Corinna: My solutions are:

1. Create an online community where people who are are going through adversity can find and share their personal power.

2. Learn, speak, and present more about the issue.

3. Ask veterans to tell me their story. (See Paula Caplan’s book for an explanation of why civilians can and need to be doing this listening.)

4. Spread information about the complete risks of using medications and labels to handle emotional distress.

5. Connect people to veteran based nonprofits that handle the issue from a non-disease perspective, like The Mission Continues.

Cliff: This is the sort of dogged creative thinking that you and so many others are doing that will eventually and actually “transform” this… When we know better we will do better.  To answer your question… finally… as I see it…. learn about vets, the VA, the problem etc., learn first’ act later, based on what you’ve learned and unlearned.

How do you walk to tackle reducing veteran suicide?

Cliff Wright

Wordworks Blog Author: Clif Wright

Clif Wright was one of the founding board members of a worldwide campaign to end Hunger. He and many other campaigners have helped to cut the number of deaths by starvation worldwide in half over the last 20 years, even as the global population has grown. Clif is a board member of Wellness Wordworks and a very passionate support of mental health entrepreneurship.

1 comment to Cliff Wright – The best ideas for reducing veteran suicide

  • Clif Wright

    Upon reading the bio above I need to add a few corrections:
    I am not a founding board member of a worldwide campaign to end hunger… I became a active volunteer in a program, the first of its kind,that set out to end hunger. I have remained committed to this work for the past thirty five years. And yes, over this time, the annual death rates have gone from 44,000 per year to around 22,000; Niether the project or I claim responsibility for this accomplishment. And we we still have a long way to go achieve hungers end. Thankfully, I have had the profound priviledge of playing a very small role in this great and honorable endeavor… it has informed and enriched every aspect of my life and work.