By Jazmin Bader
and Leslie Moon
“You’ve seen things” is the analysis that former Staff Sergeant Jose Aponte received after retiring from the military in 2012. He has not been diagnosed with PTSD or any other mental illness, yet he remembers the first year upon retiring from the military as “dark days” where he contemplated taking his life. Aponte, a student at IU Southeast, is not alone in his “dark days.” According to a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) study of retired military member deaths in 2012, of the roughly 21.8 million veterans in the United States of America, approximately 22 commit suicide every day after suffering from a wide variety of issues such as mental disorders, substance abuse, and coping with the transition from military life to civilian life, although the suicide rate is not limited to recently retired military service people. Michelle Ye Hee Lee of The Washington Post reported that approximately 8,000 former service people kill themselves every year, making a veteran suicide 1 out of 5 of all self-harm deaths.
The choices made in high-stress situations will finally resonate in former military members’ minds when out of that high-stress situation. The National Center for PTSD states, “The most significant predictor of both suicide attempts and preoccupation with suicide is combat-related guilt. Many veterans experience highly intrusive thoughts and extreme guilt about acts committed during times of war. These thoughts can often overpower the emotional coping capacities of veterans.”
Approximately 8,000 veterans commit suicide every year.
The resources, though they are present to be used, are not always as effective as one would wish them to be. Lee also reported
, “Demographics of veterans who died from suicide were the same regardless of whether or not they received care through the Veterans Health Administration.” Often in spite of resources that are constructed to help individuals out of these situations, there are impeding factors. However, IU Southeast is working to remedy this situation.
IU Southeast understands this overwhelming emotional ride that must endure when returning home and has worked to bring attention to the difficulties that student veterans must overcome. Michael Day, a personal counselor at IU Southeast, will be hosting a week long mental health awareness campaign starting September 19. This campaign will address the needs of all students suffering from mental illnesses but will also specifically highlight veterans’ mental health struggles.
One day will be devoted to the annual Out of the Darkness march which provides support and comfort to veterans considering suicide. This walk will be on September 24 and will be a community-wide effort to allow this specific group of people to see that they have a group of people that care about them. Chris Morris, an admissions counselor at IU Southeast, helped to start the event on the Southeast campus in 2015 as the Veterans Special Project Facilitator at the time.
This focus on the mental health of veterans is due to the high number of suicides in that particular population. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that in 2009 individuals committed suicide at a rate of 11.7 per every 100,000 American citizens. In comparison, as reported by the National Center for PTSD, veterans experienced self-harm death rates of 38.3 for every 100,000 in males and 12.8 for every 100,000 in females in the year 2009.
So who do they turn to that can understand their pain? At Vets 4 Warriors, veterans answer the phone, so the caller can relate better to the person on the other end of the line. For in person help, War Within helps to locate in all 50 states a resource that fits the needs of the person calling or their family member. It requests a brief description of the issues that one may be experiencing and works to place someone in the best possible care. These organizations are working to find a way to reach out to the men and women coming home with more than just broken bodies.
The Personal Counseling Center at IU Southeast is open to all students with no fee. The qualified staff are specifically trained to help people dealing with the stresses of a college environment. The 180-200 veterans and their family members at IU Southeast have the opportunity to speak with any of the multiple counselors about any psychological issues they may be facing. Southeast is committed to being equipped to provide group and personal counseling to all students.
Michael Day instructs a class called QPR. This class provides students with the knowledge to recognize and intervene in a situation where a person has become actively suicidal. He teaches these classes throughout the year, including during the mental health awareness campaign in September. Although the counseling center is for all students, veterans can benefit greatly from what they have to offer.
Anything we have done for veterans has been beneficial to our other students as well.
Veterans Affairs has a hospital located in Louisville called the Robley Rex VA Medical Center as well as a clinic in New Albany, providing local help to IU Southeast student veterans. Robley Rex offers mental health care that includes consultation and treatment for veterans. The New Albany VA Health Care Center offers more general health care and gives referrals to Robley Rex when a veteran has needs outside of their provided care.
As more veterans retire and work through their own struggles, the hope is that the improved resources will help them overcome their mental battles, lessening the tragedies. With the resources at IU Southeast and the VA, student veterans can become involved in programs that will greatly improve their mental health.
IU Southeast is always finding new ways to accommodate to the needs of all of its diverse population. According to Seuth Chaleunponh, the Dean of Students, “Anything we have done for veterans has been beneficial to our other students as well. To me that’s another way veterans give back.” |t|
Transformations is a publication of IU Southeast Diversity.