According to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans commit suicide every day, rounding out to 8,000 a year. USA today reported that suicide among veterans has now surpassed the number of soldiers who died in action serving in the Afghanistan and Iraq. These numbers do not include veterans who are not enrolled in Veteran Affairs’ health care and thus are expected to be higher.
For suicide prevention month, PCC’s Veteran Resource Center worked with The Los Angeles Vet Center Suicide Prevention team to assemble the Suicide Awareness Conference to help address what has now become an epidemic among veterans. Panels included veterans and their experience with suicide, how they cope with their trauma and how to appropriately respond to those who are high risk of suicide.
“We’ve had a veteran commit suicide on campus on our watch,” said Carol M. Calandra, PCC’s Veteran Center specialist. “ I think it’s one of the main reasons why we try so hard to bring awareness.”
An anonymous journal entry was presented to the conference that describes a veteran who seeks help to “avoid suicidal thoughts and behavior.” The entry reveals that the veteran has seen six men he served with commit suicide.
“It’s different from just looking at statistics and then actually listening to people that have seen or attempted to commit suicide … These are the voices that are so important,” said Calandra.
For many vets, the transition from an on-duty setting to the classroom has been difficult. Veterans wrestle with internal and external forces that strain their pursuit for higher education. Stress from this transition may trigger suicidal behavior.
Manny, a veteran and PCC student who declined to give his last name, attended the suicide prevention conference. Manny, who served from the year 2006 to 2015, said that the event was only “a very small window to the actual problem.”
“You live the dream then come back to reality,” Manny said. He explained that because that aspects of bills like food or housing was taken care of for him, it was hard for him to return to those responsibilities.
“Everything is taken care of you then you comeback and now have a school schedule,” he said.
Veterans coming back from overseas also have trouble returning to the life they had before leaving to service.
“You grow up with a generation, then leave and remove yourself for the years you serve and come back to see the people you went to school with having high positions like middle management or starting their businesses,” he said. “Then coming back [to school] to an entire different culture … Yeah, I feel detached.”
Continuing with the culture shock, some veterans believe that the time they served in the military is not appreciated or respected.
PCC student David Vu, who served from 2011 through 2015, said that he’s been stereotyped as a “baby killer” many times.
“It’s so frustrating to hear that from people that never been stationed or understand the reality of being in war,” Vu said.
Vu also believes that Veteran Affairs is another reason why suicide rate has increased.
“They don’t take care of us,” Vu said. “I tried scheduling a doctor appointment for my anxiety and other claims, and they told me the earliest appointment they had was January 7th.
“I get the most help here at school with the Boots to Books programs and Cohort” said Vu. Boots to Books is a counseling class where veterans are more inclined to work and confide in one another.
Olivia Chun, who is also a veteran and student of PCC, said, “I had never been to college, so when I returned it really helped taking classes with other people that are willing to work together is really helpful. “
There are ample reasons why veterans feel abandoned when returning from service. Calandra wants veterans to know that “the Veterans Resource Center is there to serve them in return and that there are people here that here to help 24/7.”
The Suicide Awareness Conference encouraged veterans to let out any built-up negligence they felt has been done toward them. This was beneficial for staff and other non-veterans to understand the problems and causes that constrict veterans from seeking help.
Everyone who assisted the conference received a folder with a guide to help veterans who show symptoms of suicidal behaviors.
For more information visit the Veterans Resource Center at room W108 or if you believe someone is at risk and need further information to assist him or her call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255.