On this Veterans Day, suicide has caused more American military casualties than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
When I first heard this statistic, my mind was absolutely blown. It hit very close to home.
A little more than a year ago, my Uncle Doug added his name to the somber roll call of 22 U.S. military veterans who die by suicide every day — this is more than double the civilian rate. Burdened with the stigma associated with mental health issues and shame surrounding posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, veterans instead turn to suicide as their only option to relieve their suffering.
Many people think of suicide attempt as a selfish act. But when a person gets to the point of taking their own life, they truly believe that their loved ones will be better off with them gone. This is mental illness: a terrible and relentless disease. Many of us have been close to the edge ourselves, or have dealt with family members in a crisis, and many have lost friends and loved ones to this disease. Please, let's stop sweeping mental illness under the rug.
The United States military veteran suicide epidemic is one of the most tragic problems afflicting those who served our country. Far too many of those we honor for their service on Veterans Day have died by their own hand.
Earlier this year, Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, designed to reduce military and veteran suicides and improve access to quality mental health care. I was so happy to see this step being taken toward reducing the tragic number of veteran suicides each day.
But mostly I just miss my uncle.
I think of him at every family event, where his absence never becomes less jarring. I think of him every time the weather gets stormy. I think of him today, on Veterans Day.
He joined the United States Coast Guard in 1998, where he served proudly for 15 years. After 9/11, he participated in Operation Noble Eagle in the Puget Sound, providing protection to U.S. Navy facilities and ships. He deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and again in 2011 for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
A year ago, he took his own life.
Douglas E. Swift
July 13, 1967 - November 12, 2014
Uncle Doug, wherever you are, please accept my lasting gratitude for your service to our nation. You gave up the comfort and security of your home and family to endure the hardships that come with military service. You served abroad and at home, in peacetime and wartime, taking on the responsibility of maintaining the freedom and way of life that we all enjoy and take for granted.
You are an American Hero.
I honor and remember you today, and every day.