To the Editor:
I would like to submit the following article as a “Guest View” on the topic of veteran’s PTSD and the rising incidence of veteran suicide. As you read the article you will realize how personal the issue is for our family, yet we feel that others might be helped by this sharing. We as community and we as government must do more for our veterans. Thank you for your consideration.
Karen Garvey, Democratic candidate for State Representative, District 70
On November 11, 2020, we will observe Veterans Day. Citizens will pay tribute to veterans living and deceased who have served our country with honor. I write to ask that we do more this year as the numbers of veterans with PTSD and those who commit suicide continues to rise. We need to work together as communities and with government services to reverse this awful trend. It is personal to me.
In October, 2019, my son-in-law, Joe, lost his battle with PTSD by committing suicide. As painful as our loss remains, we recognize that his pain, his struggle, was far worse as he never would have wanted to leave his beautiful wife and two young sons on their own.
Joe entered the Marines ready to serve and he did so honorably. Joe was ecstatic over the birth of his first son, singing and lifting him up to a bright future, a “Lion King” gesture. Four years later, for the birth of his second son, that jubilant Joe was replaced by a happy, but subdued, quieter civilian Joe. We didn’t realize the depth of his trauma or realize how difficult his struggle with PTSD really was until after he ended his life.
Once out of service, Joe struggled with civilian life. He found that his military training and skills didn’t translate well in finding a good-paying job. Through friends, he was able to interview with Consumers Energy, an employer willing to take a chance to hire this “unskilled” (non-degree) veteran. Joe felt better knowing that he was making a wage that could support his family. Yet his quiet suffering continued, controlled somewhat with pills, but unresolved. He tried to minimize it, saying, “Marines don’t whine, there are others worse off than me.” So, in addition to his suffering, he also felt guilt about feeling or showing that pain.
While this tragedy is personal to our family, we are just one of MANY stories of military loss. Joe had veteran friends who were also coping with PTSD and depression, some also taking their own lives. Veterans shouldn’t have to carry their fight home. I’ve talked with veterans and vet families who are struggling. As they settle into civilian life, many vets don’t feel heard, supported or valued. This isn’t about medals or salutes or gracious words—it starts with listening and caring and providing a broader base of community support.
More can be done to transition troops from active duty to civilian life. Once in a civilian setting, families and vets need continued education and help to learn about and watch for the signs of depression and PTSD. Veterans need more local access to medical and psychological services, as transportation can also be a problem. There are things we can do. We as citizens need to ask more of our legislators, more of the military and more of ourselves to support our veterans.
Montcalm County has a veteran population of 4,329. Before the millage passed in June, there were no veteran support groups offered by the county, no assistance for emergency dental services and only one vehicle to transport veterans to VA appointments. Beyond passing the millage, we can work in other ways to help our veterans locally and state-wide. We need to be in contact with legislators to promote legislation that supports veterans. We can contact the Montcalm County Department of Veterans Affairs to see how to directly support area veterans. Let’s use this Veteran’s Day as a call to action and then work together to amplify the voices of our veterans, especially in memory of those who no longer have a voice.