On Wednesday, veterans advocates placed 5,520 flags placed along the National Mall to call attention to the growing problem of veteran suicide.
Our National Mall Activation around Veteran Suicide is underway. Volunteers, allies, and Stormers from our Fall #StormTheHill are placing flags to remember the 5,520 veterans and military suicides to date. Check out photos throughout the day here –> https://t.co/a1X8tjQIly pic.twitter.com/D71LWi1imP
— IAVA (@iava) October 3, 2018
We’re still out here on the @NationalMallNPS as the 5,520 flags stand representing the veteran and military deaths by suicide to date for 2018. These flags will stand all day, a reminder of those we’ve lost as a community to this public health crisis. pic.twitter.com/KuzZAUMJWD
— IAVA (@iava) October 3, 2018
“When we came out here this morning to plant these flags, every one of us had a friend or family member in mind,” Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Military Times. “Some of us standing here could have been one of these flags, but for an intervention.”
The annual event took on new meaning this year following new data published last month. According to the latest Veterans Affairs’ National Suicide Data Report, suicide among young U.S. military veterans has risen significantly in recent years. In 2016, there were 45 recorded veteran suicides per 100,000 population ages 18-34 — an increase of more than 10 percent, compared to the 40.4 recorded in 2015.
The latest report comes amid fresh VA initiatives to curb the problem. During a time of widespread mental health deterioration, the suicide epidemic appears to have hit service members particularly hard — veterans are now 1.5 times more likely to take their lives than Americans who have never served in the military.
Even in the wake of the concerning suicide report, VA officials have celebrated “great strides in crisis intervention,” including the expansion of mental health services available to veterans.
From the Military Times:
Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and vice ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the next step for Congress is to ensure that VA facilities are properly staffed to respond to the needs of suicidal veterans, and to better identify what programs are working to help stem the problem.
Bryant explained Wednesday how suicide among veterans relates to the broader mental health crisis facing other Americans. She noted the case of Army veteran and former Kansas City mayoral candidate Jason Kander, who announced Tuesday that he would be dropping out of the race to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We need to de-stigmatize and allow for better mental health care to be provided for citizens everywhere,” Bryant said, as reported by WTOP.
Stephanie Keegan, whose son Daniel took his own life in 2016 after experiencing delays in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder he developed after serving in Afghanistan, shared that she was thankful for the public event recognizing something that has affected her so personally.
“It absolutely makes a difference,” she told the Military Times. “Not enough people understand the problem and the consequences of our wars. As a country, we need to pay more attention.”