DENVER (CBS4) – On Veterans Day, we honor those who fought and died for our country but, for some, the battle doesn’t end when they come home. While we often measure the cost of war in terms of casualties on the battlefield, in the last two years alone, more veterans have died from suicide than all of the soldiers killed in the last 20 years in combat.
“There’s so many us who have known somebody or who have lost somebody,” says Terri Clinton, former State Commander of the American Legion Department of Colorado.
After her brother-in-law died in combat, Clinton made it her mission to help those who survive combat only to take their own lives. Those haunted by war, she says, and yet hindered from seeking help by a warrior mentality.
“They’re uncomfortable sharing their feelings about what they saw and what they did to protect our country. They used to call shell shock and now we call it post-traumatic stress disorder,” Clinton said.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat who represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District and a former Army Ranger, calls it the uncounted cost of war.
“We are very good at keeping track of the losses and the casualties on the battlefield but not so good at keeping track of the losses and casualties after people leave the battlefield,” Rep. Crow said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, he says, doesn’t even track suicides at its own facilities and there are a growing number of them.
“You have the resources right there that are able to provide the help,” said Crow.
Crow introduced a bill to require annual reports of suicides on VA or military property as well as more congressional oversight.
“We have to figure out where it’s happening, how often it’s happening, why it’s happening and then we put together a working group of best practices to address it,” Crow said.
It is, after all, the promise we make our veterans when they go to war, that we will take care of them when they return. Clinton said we all share the responsibility to help heal the hidden wounds of war.
“Pick up the phone and reach out to a veteran that you know and be direct in your questioning. Ask them how they’re feeling, what they’re doing,” said Clinton.
Crow said after the parades end, the yellow ribbons come down and Veterans’ Day is over, we can’t forget the sacrifice our veterans have made and the battles they continue to fight within.
“We have to have a better understanding of the cost of that service and the sacrifices that our people in uniform make,” Crow said.
More than 400,000 veterans live in Colorado and the suicide rate among veterans here is twice the national rate. Two hundred veterans take their lives in our state every year. Nationwide, at least 6,000 veterans die by suicide each year.