22 Veterans will commit Suicide Today….We use them for war then throw them away when they return. How can we discuss Universal Health Care if we don’t fix the VA System? Today we are going to discuss veteran suicide…..and we will have on the phone Dr Rick Boone an Adjunct Associate Professor at Austin Community College….Also we will have on the phone Dr Mara Karpel clinical psychologist and host of the internet radio show, “Dr. Mara Karpel & Your Golden Years.” When we hear pundits and politicians talk about mental health in the context of gun policy, it’s almost never followed by a serious discussion. In truth, that line is used as more of a deflection. And very few, if any of the presidential candidates in either party put forth a serious plan or proposal for helping the mentally ill.
Why do you think that is? Is it because both parties and all candidates hate the mentally ill? Not likely. In fact I doubt many politicians think twice about the mentally ill, because many of them can’t or don’t vote. Of the homeless population, somewhere between 25 and 33% suffer from mental illness, and of those many of them are undiagnosed, and therefore untreated.
In fact, some studies show that across all populations in America, 1 in 5 suffers from mental illness each year. That’s upward of 6 million people. Many of these cases go untreated or even undiagnosed due to lack of adequate care, and the rate of untreated mental illness rises in poorer communities.
What about veterans, though? Have you ever heard a politician say that they don’t care about veterans? Not likely. They’d probably lose whatever race they were running. Even if you don’t support any of the wars that our soldiers fight in, you probably support our veterans.
Well, conservative estimates as of 2007 just for Iraqi veterans suggest that 1 in 4 veterans suffers from severe mental illness, and of those 1 in 4 more than half have 2 distinct mental illnesses. The rate is likely much higher, and this estimate doesn’t account for mild and moderate afflictions. And lack of adequate care is a huge issue amongst veterans.
This brings me to the story of Kevin Lee Hartbarger, a Bell County Veteran who killed himself in August of 2012. According to his family, Hartbrager killed himself several hours after he sought treatment at the Olin E. Teague Veterans Medical Center in Temple. While there, he expressed suicidal thoughts and communicated significant risk factors for suicide. The veteran was being treated for depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and PTSD.
Hartbarger’s widow told one news outlet that a few days before taking his own life, Kevin went to the emergency room and was given a drug similar to Xanax, an anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication. Doctors told him to return in the morning. Kevin went to a doctor in a walk-in clinic the next day, where he was given a hotline number and told that he could have an appointment with a psychiatrist that afternoon. Shortly after leaving that appointment, Kevin killed himself. We also learned from his widow that Kevin’s psychiatrists and medications were constantly changing.
All of this is a recipe for suicide. All of the factors in Kevin Lee Hartbarger’s life put together led him to that moment. He was left alone by professionals after expressing suicidal thoughts. His support system utterly failed him, as it does many veterans every day.
It’s time we get serious about mental health. I don’t mean let’s talk and do nothing, and I’m not using mental health as a line or a deflection. Let’s do more than talk, so that people like Kevin can get relief of the pain that they experience every minute of every day.