Veteran Facebook Groups Encourage Suicide Prevention
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Veterans come from all walks, granted with a significant slant towards impoverished and less fortunate circumstances. But, one thing everyone learns in boot camp, regardless of background, is that it does not matter where you are from, IED shrapnel will still spill your guts as quick as the next person in line. And, if you screw up, the blood of your brothers and sisters is on your hands. No pressure for those in their formative years.
Serving in the military is an experience that can disregard societal stigmas such as race, class and sex. You are part of a unit, you wear a uniform and you are conditioned to be as one tribe. Racial epithets are common between races. Jokes about misandry and misogyny are rampant between sexes. Bad things happen, sure, but most service members can joke freely and curse each other loudly as they know that they are in a safe place among each other. Frequently, while driving to SNC, I get several friendly waves and middle fingers from other smiling vets who read my bumper stickers, one of which reads “I survived the VA.”
Veterans suffering with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury), clinical designators that usually only mean combat veteran, have an additional onus to bear. Peers may not understand the frustration of daily living that ranges from irrational fears of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to sleepless nights. In fact, the hardships are such that veterans learn to shut their mouths. Let’s get word out about how truly and unabashedly crazy they seem to a public who was paddle boarding their late teens away, while the veteran was learning life-building skills like clearing weapons jams under fire. For many, the situation can become unbearably lonely.
It is somewhere in this that we find an epidemic of suicides in the veteran demographic at a staggering average of approximately 22 a day. This epidemic has gone on for years and shows no signs of stopping soon. Emotional disturbances, metal toxicity, brain damage, chronic pain and physiological impairments such as adrenal fatigue can all be components in the daily war a veteran wages in his or her own mind. A complex navigation between trying to stay positive and battling listlessness. Not all veterans are affected this way, but clearly enough are to keep the mental clinics in the VA backlogged for months. Just this month a 76-year-old veteran took his own life in a VA hospital parking lot in Long Island after being informed that the ER did not staff mental health professionals.
So, with a backlogged VA (that many vets distrust anyway) and a peer group that was graduating college when the vet was signing discharge papers, where does the veteran have to turn for understanding? The only answer is other veterans and many are seeking this reunion out online.
Pages like Disgruntled Veterans and Dysfunctional Veterans on Facebook provide a refuge for vets to air their dirty uniforms. The description of Dysfunctional Veterans’ page spells out a warning to the untested: “Views expressed here are not supported, endorsed, or even ‘Liked’ by DoD, civilians, or any agency. This page contains excessive profanity and inappropriate topics, so chances are that if you haven’t served you’ll find it offensive.” Dysfunctional Veterans uses their power for good and one of their moderators, a formerly homeless veteran with the username DV6, pours his time and energy into the Dysfunctional Veterans Farm, a farm in New Hampshire that temporarily houses homeless vets for nature and work therapy.
Chapi is an Army veteran currently on active duty with a deployment to Afghanistan under his belt. He is a moderator for the Disgruntled Veterans page who really is working around the clock to provide humor, a ray of light or even some unofficial counseling: whatever it takes to help his brothers and sisters through the darker times in life. Chapi, military slang for chaplain, says his “mission in life [is] to help soldiers and vets…vets won’t go to those who don’t understand.”
Another disgruntled moderator, Nevermore, found herself “spiraling out of control” earlier this year. An Air Force veteran who specialized in security, Nevermore was struck early on by the “22” figure— the number of veterans that commit suicide every day— after finding her roommate dead. Nevermore memorializes veteran’s struggles with the number 22 tattooed prominently on the inside of her right wrist. She credits Chapi for getting her “on track” and when another administrator position popped up on the growing Facebook page she was eager to join in order to help struggling vets. She says, “we can’t fail our brothers and sisters, they are all we have these days.” A sentiment easily echoed, and easily appreciated by vets spread across the country.