PTSD, Suicide, and the Homeless Veteran Epidemic

According to Brian Kinsella of Stop Soldier Suicide, a veterans’ suicide prevention advocacy group, there are a number of interrelated, complex factors preventing veterans, especially combat veterans, from re-integrating into and once again becoming productive members of society.

Among these multiple co-factors afflicting veterans from all walks of life, PTSD (coupled with other serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety), family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and financial instability all play a role in the suicide epidemic that we have seen with veterans in the last couple of years.

Statistics from the Veterans Administration and Department of Defense show that, on average, 22 military veterans a day are taking their lives. We at Interlink Counseling Services believe that this is 22 too many. However, there is also another epidemic that is afflicting veterans all across the United States today that might play a role in the veteran suicide epidemic: the threat of homelessness.

In Kentucky alone, 800 to 1,200 veterans will sleep on the streets tonight. When you’re homeless and have no hope, suicide seems like a good option and a way out. That is why we must be vigilant and fight every day to get veterans off the streets, help them with their drug and alcohol addictions, and put them back to work.

PTSD & Employment

PTSD in particular can cause the veteran to not seek employment after being discharged from the military, or be fired from a job due to its debilitating symptoms that can include anxiety, depression, hopelessness, anger, and flashbacks.

Flashbacks are a heightened sense of alert and anxiety caused by being placed in tense combat situations for long periods of time, guilt and remorse over having to take lives may play a role in the veteran’s symptoms, as well as undealt with emotional trauma and stress. These symptoms can result in the veteran being fired or passed over during a job search, leading to subsequent poverty and homelessness.

It is up to us to educate employers on the proper procedures to deal with veterans suffering from PTSD, and to advocate social programs and workshops that will help veterans find employment, and help them effectively manage their PTSD symptoms while on the job.

We cannot just chuck our veterans out of the workplace every time some incident occurs, but we should encourage them to get professional help, including psychotherapy and psychiatric medication, if needed.

PTSD & Family

When a veteran comes back from a tour of duty or is discharged from military service, it is sometimes difficult for families (spouses, children, brothers, sisters, parents, etc.) to understand what the veteran has gone through and what kind of support they need in order to function in a productive, stable capacity.

They may have problems adjusting to civilian life, re-integrating into the household or work environment, and may seem distant, irritable, depressed, and angry. It is paramount that families understand what is happening and what they can personally do to ease the symptoms of a veteran with this illness.

Veterans suffering from PTSD need a patient, caring, and stable support system as well as help with ordinary, everyday tasks that might prove difficult. Help writing checks, going grocery shopping, driving, and performing other menial tasks can be beneficial and ease the veteran’s stress. Spouses should be informed on the wide range of symptoms attributed to PTSD, how to properly manage it within the household, and what to do in case of an emergency.

Children should be made aware of triggering events, such as slamming doors or cabinets that might induce a flashback or cause an episode with the veteran. These things can be prevented by having a family meeting with the veteran and his or her therapist. Education is key in maintaining the family unit when a veteran is suffering from PTSD.

PTSD & Homelessness

PTSD, as described above, can cause a wide range of debilitating symptoms, which can sometimes become unmanageable to the person experiencing it. These symptoms can lead to unemployment, and in some cases, divorce and the resulting loss of the veteran’s home.

A nasty custody battle can ensue if the veteran has children, and the support structure that the veteran relied on so far may be compromised completely. This is when all the factors can come together to create an untenable and destructive situation.

When the veteran has nowhere else to go, he or she will inevitably end up on the streets. Drug and alcohol abuse typically follow, creating a downward spiral that, in some cases, will end in suicide. If we want to address the suicide epidemic going on with veterans, we first need to address the other factors that are contributing to the crisis. When a veteran finally ends up on the streets, they feel like they have nothing left to lose.

Conclusion

At Interlink Counseling Services, we do everything in our power to assuage the homeless veteran epidemic occurring in our state, but our resources are limited. We rely primarily on VA funding, donations, and the good will of volunteers and others who support our cause.

PTSD can ruin a veteran’s life. It is a terrible disease, one that researchers are still studying. Our precious veterans are losing their jobs, families, homes, and lives every day because of this debilitating illness. Together, we can work hand in hand to solve this crisis by educating the community, and getting our veterans back on their feet with a new hope and a new lease on life.

Written by
Joshua Creighton