Why you should call a veteran this weekend

A tragic pattern is emerging: Suicides in the armed forces jumped by 15 percent in 2020 — from 504 suicides in 2019 to 580 the following year.

As many as two-thirds of the veterans who take their own lives are terribly disconnected and have had no contact with the Department Veterans Affairs (VA) network of services and supports. Researchers have identified such social isolation as "arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal ideation, [suicide] attempts and lethal suicidal behavior," according to the VA.

“The findings are troubling," Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Overnight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine National Guard Bureau chief tests positive for COVID-19 MORE said in response to a September report on the shocking number of military suicides. "Suicide rates among our service members and military families are still too high, and the trends are not going in the right direction."

ADVERTISEMENT

The need for a national push to address the military suicide and isolation has never been greater. All Americans can help curtail suicide deaths among active-duty service members and veterans with a simple action. This Sunday we’ll see that in action, with the first annual National Warrior Call Day — a deceptively simple approach that belies its life-saving impact: Make a call and connect with someone who has or is currently serving in the armed forces. If necessary, offer support and steer toward resources. Listen.

It’s an effort supported by all seven living former chiefs of the Department of Veterans Affairsnumerous congressional lawmakers and three congressional Medal of Honor recipients.

More U.S. veterans have died by suicide in the last 10 years than service members who died from combat in Vietnam. The suicide rate for post-9/11 vets is especially high. And compared with civilians, the rate for veteran suicides is far greater. The statistics are particularly troubling among post-Sept. 11 veterans and active-duty service members who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and are between 18-years-old and 34-years-old. Their suicide rate is 2.5 times that of all civilians.

A recent Brown University report estimates that 30,177 active-duty personnel and veterans of these wars have died by suicide, far more than the 7,057 service members killed in those wars.

Numerous administrations have tried to halt the deadly trends through stepped-up programs. And some hopeful signs are beginning to emerge. For example, the suicide rate among veterans fell modestly in 2020, for the first time in years. But we can all help build on that success and make all the difference – by turning average Americans into catalysts for connection and for surmounting the isolation into which vets and service members may be sinking.

ADVERTISEMENT

On Nov. 21, on that national day of connection, all Americans should make a call to a warrior —the first of several such calls throughout the year — and connect them with resources such as Vets4Warriors or the VA.

Serving the nation in uniform is among the most noble of callings — and so is saving a life. 

Frank Larkin is co-chair of the Warrior Call initiative. Larkin is a former Navy SEAL, 40th U.S. Senate Sergeant at Arms and father of a Navy SEAL son who committed suicide.

Leroy Petry is co-chair of the Warrior Call initiative and a 2011 recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.