“PROSE”: “the ordinary language people use in speaking or writing.” -Merriam Webster
A Word About the Women
Barely over a month ago, a North Carolina Public Radio story explained that VA data show that female veterans take their own lives at a rate 250% that of women who’ve never served. And the “VA has recently received data showing that a startlingly high number of suicides come in the first days, weeks and months after veterans leave the military. . . .” This text and images are taken from that story.
The WUNC segment told the tragic story of Deana Martorella Orellana, a United States Marine who in 2010 deployed to a “particularly combat-torn part of Helmand Province in Afghanistan, . . .” The Marine “was assigned to a small female team that was attached to a male infantry unit. The team worked with the Afghan women and children they encountered. . . . When Deana came back, something had changed, said her family. . . . One of Deana’s siblings, Robin Jewell, said the problem had to do with something Deana saw or experienced involving Afghan children, but Deana never opened up about the details.
“She said that she didn’t see things the same, and she could handle everything except for the kids,” Jewell said. “And I don’t know what that means. She just didn’t talk.”
The WUNC/NPR story explains that “[o]n March 4th, 2016, Deana went to the VA for help, her mother said. VA officials later told the family that Deana agreed to counseling.
But just hours after the VA appointment, Deana asked a friend to drop her at the house where she had lived with her boyfriend, who wasn’t home. She went in the bedroom and retrieved a .45-caliber handgun.
She sat on the floor and leaned against a wall. That’s how her body was found.
She wrote a note,” said her mother, sitting at Jewell’s kitchen table in Maryland.”
But not a real note,” Jewell added. “Not a Dear John.”
Her mother recalled what it said: “I’m sorry, call 911, take care of the dog, don’t come in the bedroom.”
Medical examiners’ reports have a line listing valuables found with a body. Deana was wearing a fitness band and a plastic bracelet.
In her pocket was a sheaf of handwritten inspirational quotes. Words, as they say, to live by.
She had been out of the Marines only a few months. . . .
. . .
The suicide rate for female veterans has soared 85 percent in recent years, leading the military, VA and advocacy groups to try new ways to improve women’s mental health care during and after service.
One key focus: how to tailor the sometimes tricky jump from the military to the civilian world.
Women’s experiences in the military are different from men’s, so their transition needs to be different, too, said retired Army Col. Ellen Haring, director of research for the advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
“The experiences you have on active duty carry with you, and then they manifest as mental wellness challenges as veterans,” she said. “When you’re transitioning out of the service, or when you return from a combat deployment to come back to a stateside demobilization and try to return to family or community, that’s a challenging period.”
When that transition doesn’t go well, the cost can be terrible. Female veterans are nearly 250 percent more likely to kill themselves than civilian women.
. . .
A need for human connections
SWAN has just released a half dozen recommendations on the mental health needs of women service members and veterans. They were based on a poll that gauged the mental health needs of veterans and women on active duty.
A key recommendation is to establish stronger social support groups and networks for military women.
[Air Force veteran Cat Corchado leads support groups in Charlotte, N.C., specifically for female veterans. Her group is called Women Veteran Network , or WoVeN.]
. . .
The meetings are only for female veterans, and they’ve started in a host of locations around the country over the past few weeks, thanks to a grant from the Walmart Foundation and with support from the VA. The idea is to build connections and community among women veterans.
Human connections are crucial for mental health, and especially when women are just getting out of the service, said Corchado.
“The military really made it seem like all you do is this, this and this, and you need LinkedIn and you’ll be good,” said Corchado, who’s a personal trainer and real estate agent.
Once out of the service, though, she didn’t feel tied in to any kind of support.
“You get into this free fall and you don’t know how to climb back out of it,” Corchado said. “But I didn’t realize until years later that every veteran, but especially female veterans go through that free fall.”
The VA says it has a host of suicide prevention efforts underway, including a system that harnesses the power of big data to identify veterans at particular risk. It analyzes more than 60 characteristics, including gender, age, geographic location, drug prescriptions and medical history. The VA can check in with veterans whom the system flags.
The agency also has been trying to train veterans and their families about gun safety, said Megan McCarthy, the VA’s deputy director for suicide protection.
“One of the reasons we think why women veterans die by suicide at higher rates than civilians do is because they are more likely to attempt suicide with a firearm than civilian women,” McCarthy said. “Firearms are a very lethal method of suicide.”
Data show that women who get VA care are less likely to kill themselves. But of the 20 or so male and female veterans a day who do commit suicide, about 14 aren’t in the VA’s care.
“We are really working hard to try to understand more about those 14 veterans who die by suicide each day who aren’t in VA healthcare and make sure they have the good care and support that they have earned,” McCarthy said.
More information from the VA about suicide prevention and mental health, including crisis contacts, can be found at:
Battling Depression And Suicide Among Female Veterans
June 2018: VA clarifies its suicide statistics
A Stars and Stripes article posted June 25, 2018 on the blog of Special Forces Association Chapter IX suggests that the VA’s reporting of its suicide data has lacked precision:
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported an average of 20 veterans died by suicide every day – an often-cited statistic that raised alarm nationwide about the rate of veteran suicide. However, the statistic has long been misunderstood, according to a report released this week. The VA has now revealed the average daily number of veteran suicides has always included deaths of active-duty service members and members of the National Guard and Reserve, not just veterans.
Craig Bryan, a psychologist and leader of the National Center for Veterans Studies, said the new information could now help advocates in the fight against military and veteran suicide. “The key message is that suicides are elevated among those who have ever served,” Bryan said. “The benefit of separating out subgroups is that it can help us identify higher risk subgroups of the whole, which may be able to help us determine where and how to best focus resources.”
The VA released its newest National Suicide Data Report on Monday, which includes data from 2005 through 2015. Much in the report remained unchanged from two years ago, when the VA reported suicide statistics through 2014. Veteran suicide rates are still higher than the rest of the population, particularly among women. In both reports, the VA said an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. In its newest version, the VA was more specific.
The report shows the total is 20.6 suicides every day. Of those, 16.8 were veterans and 3.8 were active-duty service members, guardsmen and reservists, the report states. That amounts to 6,132 veterans and 1,387 service members who died by suicide in one year. The VA’s 2012 report stated 22 veterans succumbed to suicide every day – a number that’s still often cited incorrectly. That number also included active-duty troops, Guard and Reserve, VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said Wednesday.
The VA encourages those who need help to reach out: “Veterans, Service members, and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, send a text message to 838255, or chat online to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.” https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/
Some of this content first appeared at the following research article: In 2018 we still need our warriors. https://combatresearchandprose.com/2018/07/07/in-2018-we-still-need-our-warriors
Charles Bloeser is a lawyer and the researcher behind the creation of combatresearchandprose.com, a new open-source applied research initiative examining combat and those marked by it. His most recent publication, in August 2018, reports how a cancer-stricken, combat-haunted, Vietnam veteran fell between the cracks in a modern jail. It’s an account that, from that warrior’s deathbed, he asked author to share with those best able to keep the same thing from happening to others. STRIFE, at the Department of War Studies, Kings College London, gave him a way to do that.