Veteran Suicides: Will it Never End?

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In yet another disturbing article by the New York Times, entitled “In Unit Stalked by Suicide, Veterans try to Save One Another,” author Dave Phillips chronicles the benign neglect of the VA in helping our brave Veterans to cope with the aftermath of war. With no disrespect to Mr. Phillips, a similar article could be written every week detailing the chronic neglect of the VA for warriors at risk of suicide.

While I suppose that there will be much “wailing and gnashing of teeth” over the New York Times article, but will any meaningful change come for the 300,000 to 400,000 Veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. Based on the evidence, sadly one must conclude that no meaningful reform will occur within the VA.

The experience of one Veteran in dealing the VA is not uncommon from the countless other stories SFTT has heard from other Veterans,

After the eighth suicide in the battalion, in 2013, Mr. Bojorquez decided he needed professional help and made an appointment at the veterans hospital in Phoenix.

He sat down with a therapist, a young woman. After listening for a few minutes, she told him that she knew he was hurting, but that he would just have to get over the deaths of his friends. He should treat it, he recalled her saying, “like a bad breakup with a girl.”

The comment caught him like a hook. Guys he knew had been blown to pieces and burned to death. One came home with shrapnel in his face from a friend’s skull. Now they were killing themselves at an alarming rate. And the therapist wanted him to get over it like a breakup?

Mr. Bojorquez shot out of his seat and began yelling. “What are you talking about?” he said. “This isn’t something you just get over.”

He had tried getting help at the V.A. once before, right after Mr. Markel’s funeral, and had walked out when he realized the counselor had not read his file. Now he was angry that he had returned. With each visit, it appeared to him that the professionals trained to make sense of what he was feeling understood it less than he did.

He threw a chair across the room and stomped out, vowing again never to go back to the V.A.

Indeed, the article goes on to point out the following:

  • – Of about 1,200 Marines who deployed with the 2/7 in 2008, at least 13 have killed themselves, two while on active duty, the rest after they left the military. The resulting suicide rate for the group is nearly four times the rate for young male veterans as a whole and 14 times that for all Americans.
  •  – A 2014 study of 204,000 veterans, in The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association, found nearly two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stopped Veterans Affairs therapy for PTSD within a year, before completing the treatment. A smaller study from the same year found about 90 percent dropped out of therapy.
  • – Mr. Gerard’s experience shows, however, that the system is only as good as the V.A. treatment it is intended to connect to. The night he went to the psychiatric ward at the Indianapolis veterans hospital, he said, he waited and waited for a doctor to see him. After 24 hours, he gave up and checked himself out.
  • – After surviving an ambush in Afghanistan where several Marines were injured, Mr. Gerard said, he was treated for PTSD by the Marine Corps. But when his enlistment ended in 2011, so did his therapy. He tried to continue at the V.A., but long delays meant it was two years before he got any treatment, and even then, he said, he found it ineffective.

Earlier this month, SFTT reported the heart-wrenching personal story of Maj. Ben Richards and What I should have said about Veterans with PTSD and TBI.    His story is not dissimilar to the experiences encountered by the Marine Veterans at the VA and recounted in the New York Times article.  How much more will the American public continue to endure the systematic abuse by the VA and the inability of Veterans to seek alternative treatment outside the VA:

While the New York Times, SFTT and other organizations can continue to highlight the chronic problems in the care given to Veterans, we sadly cannot influence results in a positive direction given the stranglehold that the VA has on the care of Veterans.  We can only encourage the VA to “think outside the box” and allow Veterans the option of seeking alternative forms of treatment not currently prescribed by the VA.




Can US troops wear third-party body armor?

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As previously reported on SFTT – ! You can find more information about generic medications here.

In August 2007, Arkansas Fourth District Representative Mike Ross sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army requesting clarification.  Secretary of the Army Pete Geren formally acknowledged in September that insurance and medical benefits would not be withheld if combat injuries (or death) were sustained while a service member was wearing unauthorized body armor.  Nevertheless, Secretary Geren went on to add that “every Soldier, regardless of rank, is required to use/wear U.S. government approved equipment, such as the Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) system.”

In order to clear up any possible misunderstanding, Arkansas Representative Mike Ross again sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense requesting further clarification.  In a letter dated what appears to be November 2, 2010, Clifford L. Stanley on behalf of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) responded as follows:

QUOTE  (Bold highlights added by SFTT)

Dear Representative Ross:

Thank you for your letter dated October 13, 2010, regarding the upcoming deployment of the Arkansas’ 39th Brigade Combat Team and the impact of body armor worn on benefits.  This issue falls under the purview of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), and I have been asked to respond.

As you allude to in your letter, rumors regarding Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SOLI) payments and Department of Defense medical care as it relates to battle injuries or death when wearing commercially procured (Dragon Skin) body armor arise on occasion.  Eligible benefits and medical support associated with SGLI or the Department of Defense (DoD) are paid or provided if a member is injured or killed in action while wearing commercially purchased body armor.  The DoD Will not discriminate, as it relates to military health care, between Service members who wear government issued or commercially purchased body armor.

Title 38, United States Code, is the statutory authority for the portfolio of SGLI products (SGLI, SGLI Traumatic Injury Protection (TSGLI),  Family SGLI, etc.) for which the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) is responsible.  Department of Defense staff consulted with VA and reaffirmed that wearing unapproved body armor, in and of itself, does not disqualify members for SGLI or TSGLI payments. Additionally, the question of privately purchase body armor is addressed on the VA’s myths and rumors website (web address follows):

Medical benefits, as with SGLI payments, are not contingent on the type of body armor worn by Service members.  The Services do not seek reimbursement for medical expenses connected to members wounded in combat when wearing commercially procured body armor.

Thank you for your concern in this matter, and for your support of the Service and family members of the 39th Brigade Combat Team.


Clifford L. Stanley


A facsimile of Mr. Stanley’s letter on third-party body armor may be downloaded from the SFTT website.