A friend of mine, who blogs at Gold Star Mom Speaks Out wrote this and graciously allowed me to post it here.
When the military talks out loud about suicides in the military, it’s a good thing. This week in Washington DC 1,000 people are attending a four-day Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki were among many military leaders and medical experts in attendance. The highest level of leadership and the array of experts should indicate that the military is looking for solutions to solve this terrible trending problem of suicides in the military.
I have attended numerous meetings discussing veterans issues where one of the topics is military suicides. I have always been amazed that a military representative always acknowledges military suicides as an pressing issue but cannot figure out why. I’m no expert, but let’s try this short list. Repeated deployments, shortened dwell times, or time at home, stop loss, PTSD. I could go on, but that’s a whole other story. So, I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen told the audience at the conference “I know at this point in time, there does not appear to be any scientific correlation between the number of deployments and those who are at risk, but I’m just hard-pressed to believe that’s not the case,” Admiral Mullen said. “I know we are and hope to continue to look (at deployments) first to peel back the causes to get to the root of this.”
Deborah Mullen, Admiral Mullen’s wife, accompanies him to many events that are military family related. I met both the Admiral & Mrs Mullen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2009 where I was makring the 5th anniversary of my son’s death. They were both walking through Section 60, where more than 800 members of the military who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried. They were offering condolences to family members and friends, they offered hugs or a hand in friendship, so it was no surprise that Mrs Mullen attended the Suicide Prevention Conference. SFGate reports her message to the attendees:
Don’t forget the spouses.
Deborah Mullen said Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. “I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track,” Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.
She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.
“There’s another side to this and that’s family members who commit suicide,” Mrs. Mullen said. “It’s our responsibility. These are our family members.”
Military-wide, she said, it’s not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.
“Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance,” she said. “As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse’s military career.”
Mrs Mullen’s message is spot on altough I would add one more thing. Don’t forget the parents.
I’m pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child. I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace. If only they could trade their life for their child’s.
Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!
Today is the day we remember the Gold Star Families, those who have lost their service member in combat.
These families now have a new way to stay intouch, both with each other and with others, including the military family that has become so important to them.
As a story from Defenselink News reported,
a new Virtual Installation, such as the Army Strong Community Center that opened in Rochester NY in September, is a way for these families to maintain ties to the military. As three families who met with Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz made clear to him :
What they said they’re lacking now is a way to stay tied to the military their sons died serving, and to get information and help when they need it.
These families have had difficulties with finding counseling who could help, in one case helping the fiancee of the fallen servicemember receive benefits for the daughter he never saw, and in assisting the siblings who were suffering with the death of their brother. This installation could be of service, could help this group of families who need to feel that we haven’t forgotten them.
I have a blog friend, who lost her son 5 years ago. I visit Ken at Arlington periodically, and think of his mother often. As a former Blue Star Mother, and a current Blue Star Wife, I honour her service and her loss, I honour the Gold Star Families around the country who grieve the loss of their servicemember, their son or daughter, who miss their brother or sister, the father or mother they will never see again. Our country needs to remember these families, we need to make sure that their sacrifice is never ever forgotten.
General Casey remembered these families Saturday at the 4th Annual Time of Remembrance at the US Capitol, spent time talking to them, especially the children. The White House Commission on Remembrance proclaimed that the purpose of this day is
To unite our citizens in remembrance, honoring all those who died in service to our country with a special tribute to America’s fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq and the families they left behind. To demonstrate to these families that in addition to their family and friends, their fellow Americans care about their loss.
We must never forget that each one of the names on the roll of the fallen have a family that will never be the same again, that have sacrificed so much.
I went to the launch for Beyond Tribute yesterday, and with the Memorial Day weekend coming up, wanted to make sure all our readers (those loyal few) get the word!
Beyond Tribute is – to quote one of the founders – not a charity, not an organization, it’s an idea! The idea is to make the holidays that should be devoted to veterans and those who gave their lives, mean more again. To those in America who don’t know anyone in the military – and we all know how many that description fits – right now Memorial Day is the day for a good sale – and none of us will turn down a good sale! But wouldn’t it be even better if the business doing that great sale on purses (that’s for Pam Eggleston the purse maven, the milspouse who spoke at the launch about her life with Charles, her husband and wounded warrior) was going to contribute part of the profits from that sale to programs for vets? General Wesley Clark said at the launch that we need to transform Memorial Day and Veterans Day back into a holiday of more meaning. The President of Gold Star Mothers spoke very movingly at the launch as well. We cannot allow this day to be only the day the pool opens, the day for a great bargain on a dress.. We must remember, we must make everyone else remember too!
So – if you haven’t taken the pledge yet – go over and do it. Then send the link to the businesses you use – big and small. Send the link to your family, send the link to your friends and co-workers. Let’s put the memories back into Memorial Day, and by Veteran’s Day – make the rest of the country remember the veterans.
Milblogging.com has the story of a young man who was killed in action in Afghanistan last week. Sgt Christopher Abeyta – who also wrote a blog. In this story, I was so moved by Sgt. Abeyta’s mother’s actions:
“While deployed, he wrote entries in his ever-present journal, stories on two blogs and letters to his family. His mother held tightly Tuesday to one from November, which she read aloud on her back patio, demanding that his grandmother, Elvira Abeyta, and local veterans gathered around her know the man she raised.
“I know you don’t enjoy the path I have chosen for myself but trust me it’s so very rewarding,” she read. “You know I know it bothers you that I am here. … but what kind of person would I be, Ma, if I didn’t try to make this better.
“OK?” she said at the end. “That’s my son.”
A son who will be loved and missed, a son to be so proud of. This Gold Star Mom will be in my thoughts every day.