Every 72 minutes a veteran chooses to end his/her life by suicide.
This statistic – from a recent Department of Veteran Affairs Report entitled, “Suicide Among Veterans and Other Americans” – reveals that the pace of self-destruction is particularly high for veterans fresh from America’s most recent conflicts in the Middle East.
The Bible tells us murder is wrong, but what does it say about suicide?
“Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“You shall not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)
“And when his armor bearer saw that Saul was dead, he fell likewise on his sword, and died with him.” (1 Samuel 31:5)
These verses tell us that we should respect our bodies. We are God’s creations, and we shouldn’t die before our time or forsake God’s will for the length of our lives just because things are tough.
However, the statistics tell the tragic story of how tough things really are. Veterans are killing themselves at three times the rate of civilians.
What is even more troubling is that our young male veterans – in their 20s – are dying at four times the rate of their civilian peers. Equally disturbing, are the numbers for female veterans – who are 2.4 times more likely to choose suicide than their civilian counterparts.
As Christians, what can we do to cub these deaths, and what should we do to save these brave Americans who fought for our freedom?
Here are some suggestions:
Prayer: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
We should take the issue of veteran suicide into our prayer life. I am pleased to take part in a prayer call on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6:30 AM (EDT), 5:30 AM (CDT). Join by calling the toll free number 641-715-3580, access code: 548874. I will be on the line praying for our returning male and female heroes.
Fellowship: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
As a Country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 13 years. As the public, we have not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans – roughly three-quarters of 1 percent – served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post 9/11 years; many of them served more than one tour.
Our collective neglect of returning soldiers – in employment, in healthcare, and in recognition of their service – have left many of them feeling isolated, and ripe for suicidal thoughts and actions.
As Christians, we must do more than lip service to our veterans. We must go out of way to hire them, and bring them into our churches with specific programs of outreach.
Advocate: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever” (John 14:16).
The American public and its political leadership will do anything for the military, except take its cry for help seriously.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is tasked with the health care of our veterans. The agency’s mammoth bureaucracy, second only to the Pentagon, has been slow to embrace new ideas. Chief among these ideas is to manage the urge of our soldiers to commit suicide, and not just to treat the underlying illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
As Christians, we must resist the “hook, line and sinker” adoption of conservative doctrine, which led to rejection of funding for these programs on the guise that it would cause expansion of government.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), is the leading advocacy group for the 9/11 generation of military veterans.
The IAVA lobbying efforts have successfully secured increased funding for the VA. This helps the agency to be able to tailor programs to the individual veteran. This designer approach has been extremely effective in reducing suicide, according to Craig Bryan, head of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah.
With fewer and fewer of us going to war, that puts more strain on those in uniform to have repeated tours.
Therefore, we see more and more of these veterans returning home with their families to face the brunt of it. We Christians, as well as all Americans, would be wise to heed the advice of Abraham Lincoln as he concluded his second inaugural address.
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
We must find ways to heal the pain and sorrow of war because every 72 minutes another veteran commits suicide.