I don’t know your name yet.  I don’t know what state you will come from.  I don’t know what party you will represent.  I don’t know what your platform will be.  But what I do know is that you have the potential to save at the very least 33,580 lives.  That is the MINIMUM number of veterans and active duty service members that will commit suicide during your first term as our President.  Sir or Madam, that number will be higher than the entire population of Auburn, NY.   Should you be elected to a second term in office that number will jump to a MINIMUM of 67,160.  Will you be able to sleep knowing that many men and women, who have given of themselves in service to our country, have taken their own lives under your watch?  I can’t sleep tonight after learning about just ONE in a state 10 hours away from me.

I emphasize the word MINIMUM because the statistic frequently used in the media of 22 veterans and 1 active duty suicide a day is a fallacy.  We don’t actually know the true and accurate number because every state doesn’t report their number - they aren’t required to report them.  If we can’t save these men and women in life then shouldn’t we at least be able to keep track of the accurate numbers after they are gone?  But then again, if we did know the accurate number then we would know how much more we have failed.   Mister or Madam President, I am not a fan of failure and I hope that you aren’t either.

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Pennsylvania – March 2015, Colorado – April 2015, Arizona – May 2015, Tennessee – July 2015…these states are different Future Mr/Madam President.   You see, in the last four months all of these states have not only had veterans commit suicide but these particular suicides have actually happened on VA property.  THAT is a message.  THAT should be a warning. THAT should NEVER happen again!  I am a firm believer that suicide never actually ends the pain, it just transfers it.  It is transferred to the parents, the spouses, the children, the siblings, the friends, the neighbors and the co-workers.  But a suicide on VA property?  That pain was meant to be transferred to US!  We failed them.  We didn’t listen to them. We didn’t help them. We didn’t save them.  In return, they took their own life on VA property to send a final and lasting message – WE FAILED THEM. 

No mother in Louisiana should be told not to bring her suicidal son to his nearest VA clinic (40 miles according to the Choice Program) because it’s getting close to 5 pm and to drive 2.5 hours to the next nearest VA hospital after he’s already bleeding.  No Master Sergeant should be treated with witch hazel and ointment for 8 years by the VA for hemorrhoids only to find out by a civilian hospital that he is actually in the final stages of rectal cancer.  No female MST (Military Sexual Trauma) victim in Michigan should not be offered counseling because there are no female therapists on staff.  No veteran in Iowa who was diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury while at Walter Reed Hospital should be denied a rating for his TBI because he’s “already being paid for PTSD and they are almost the same thing”. No quadriplegic Ranger in Arizona should still be waiting over 7 months for VA approval to have a caregiver.  No, No, No to every other story I could tell you. WE ARE FAILING THEM.

For the next 15 or so months you will be busy on the campaign trail visiting many cities across this country.  You will be addressing a lot of issues, asked a lot of questions, giving a lot of speeches and making a lot of promises.  I beg of you – address the VA, ask about the VA, speak about the VA and promise to FIX THE VA…and on January 17, 2017 do it, because there will be a MINIMUM of 33,580 people whose lives are counting on you.

Linder is a political consultant based in Iowa and a veterans advocate on a national level.