By: Gokul Menon October, 30, 2019
The number of suicides among military veterans in the country is on the rise. Though this isn’t a new problem, the State seems to be searching for new and active solutions. The country has come a long way in its interaction with suicide and post-war trauma. Post World War I, mental health, among troops who fought for the country, was relegated to the personal realm. However, the agonies of war continued even after they returned to their regular lives. Post the World Wars, the families of veterans faced a similar situation after the deployment of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2017, a total of 47,713 U.S. citizens took their own life. Among them, 6,139 are veterans. It is quite disheartening to observe that over 6,000 veterans have committed suicide each year since 2008. Moreover, the percentage of veterans committing suicide is twice as much as the regular population. Another cause for concern is that a majority of the troops do not use VHA services. Efforts are also being made to reach out to veterans who are not in VHA Care.
Life Insurance (private insurers) for veterans usually covers suicide and other catastrophes, provided the insurance was purchased two to three years before the demise of the Servicemember. It depends on the suicide clause in the policy. Military suicide is a delicate issue. Life insurance for suicide is a double-edged-sword, in terms of the mental health of the Servicemembers. Reports suggest that the existence of a healthy life insurance coverage might push veterans towards suicide. LA Times quotes the example of Army Spc. James Christian Paquette, who before taking his life, visited the Wainwright Benefits office, enquiring about the suicide clause in his insurance plan. This was a clear red flag, which went unnoticed. These are areas, where better awareness and care are needed.
Some of the military life insurance policies (Federal) are as follows, these do not have a two-year waiting period, for suicide coverage. Coverage for suicide under these insurances begins on enlistment.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI):
One becomes automatically insured under SGLI if s/he is an active member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, or Coast Guard. TSGLI (SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection Program) provides short-term financial assistance to aid veterans in their recovery from traumatic injuries. The insurance is provided by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, and more importantly, it also covers suicide.
According to a few reports in 2016, authorities have not yet been able to clearly identify links between suicide among veterans, undergoing depression or PTSD, and his/her military service.
While a bodily disability can attract compensation and support from the VA, poor mental health, which ultimately leads to death, does not receive the same level of support and compensation. The difficulty lies in the emphasis on evidence, that establishes a link between one’s suicide and his/her time in the military. It is not easy to validate this link.
Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI):
FSGLI is a group life insurance coverage to spouses and children of Servicemembers insured under SGLI. The premium rates are as follows. These premiums are automatically deducted from one’s pay. Accelerated Benefits Option (ABO) offers servicemembers access to death benefits before the death of a terminally-ill spouse.
Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI):
This life insurance is an option of attaining benefits even after one has left service. VGLI provides lifetime insurance if premiums are paid regularly. Servicemembers have to enroll in VGLI, within 480 days from the date of separation. The premium rates are as follows:
Most private insurance companies seem to be providing benefits to military veterans. USAA offers over 40 benefits to veterans. Some of them are guaranteed life insurance after their military service. There is no “war exclusion” on life insurance and it also provides overseas auto insurance discounts. Progressive has a veteran-friendly program called “Keys to Progress”. GEICO’s Military Deployment Centre provides pre, during, and post-deployment services.
Efforts by VA Towards the Mental Health of Veterans:
By increasing the awareness about mental health and disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the country has expanded its focus on the health (mental and otherwise) and recuperation of troops. The mental health of troops has shifted from the realm of “personal responsibility” to “national responsibility”. Popular culture has also actively contributed to this shift. Movies such as “American Sniper”, portrayed the difficulties that troops experience on their return to normalcy back home. In 2017, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development placed the number of homeless veterans at 40,000.
According to Gavop’s research, reports made in 2015 suggested that Marines of 2/7 (2nd Battalion, 7th Marines) felt abandoned by the State. Their action for survival was to rely on each other for solace. The marines felt completely alienated after returning from the intense battle zones they were stationed in. 2005 also saw a sharp rise in the number of suicides among troops who had returned from Afghanistan and Iraq. This was a wake-up call for the State. Millions were poured into research. It was later, in 2015, that the Obama administration signed the Clay Hunt Act, in honor of Clay Hunt, a decorated Marine, who was quite outspoken about better care for veterans in the country. Hunt took his life in 2011, at the age of 28. The Clay Hunt Act’s primary aim was to let veterans know that they aren’t alone in their battle against the demons of war. This act also makes it mandatory for annual third-party evaluations of VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs.
President Trump’s latest move has been to lay out a “Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide.” The government has undertaken a program called PREVENTS (President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide), to address the increase in suicides among veterans. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has an unparalleled system that is assisting veterans in recovering their mental health. But, it is essential to note that society’s outlook towards mental health, of returning and active troops, is crucial in creating an environment healthy for them. A close observation of patterns by family and friends of soldiers with poor mental health is as important as celebrating the services of troops.
To tackle the problem of homelessness among veterans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has begun a VA Supportive Housing Program to help homeless veterans. It enrolls the largest number of veterans experiencing long-term and repeated homelessness.
As troops continue to move from Syria to Iraq, one hopes that the mental health of active and retired military personnel is treated with urgency and vigilance. The nation bears the weight of this issue and not just the soldier. As a nation of many, one can show their gratitude by committing to make life easier for soldiers returning from the perils of war.
If you know someone who needs help, contact Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone. You could also send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder.
Gokul works as a writer at Gavop. He holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Hyderabad and a Bachelor’s in English from Madras Christian College. He has been a part of a couple of theatre groups, like Masquerade Youth Theatre and Theatre No. 59 and enjoyed being a part of Literary and Debating circles in Chennai. Gokul is an avid reader and has presented a few academic papers. He spends more time on Goodreads, than on any other social media platform.