Andy Marshall, Commander

Beware of spring darkness

For many, spring is a welcome time of year. Snowdrifts are disappearing, flowers are blooming, and wildlife is returning to our backyards and bird feeders. But for others, the season brings a perilousness that many of us may not be aware of. And it’s a situation we should all work to address once it enters our consciousness.

I was extraordinarily surprised earlier this year to learn that the national suicide rate spikes during the spring months. It’s confusing, because spring marks the end of the darkness of winter and represents new hope and life. Puzzled by this new information, I began researching to try to find the reason why this is, but could not find a definitive answer. That is, until I reached out to some of our brothers- and sisters-in-arms.

Some posited that the end of the holiday season leaves people in a rut, while others opined that the answer may lie in biochemistry. While there is truth in both answers, one statement stood out to me the most: Even though the weather gets better, the problems people faced ahead of the holidays are still there.

That simple explanation hit me like a ton of bricks and saddened me because our country, our organization, the Department of Veterans Affairs and communities nationwide all have the resources to help improve the plights that lead to the suicide of our nation’s veterans.

Depression, substance abuse, unemployment, financial hardships and relationship problems are contributing factors to suicide. And all of them can be addressed with proper recognition and intervention, which are especially consequential given that nearly three-quarters of veterans who die by suicide are not enrolled in VA care.

Fortunately, the VA has recently initiated efforts to eliminate copayments for outpatient appointments and to decrease medication copays for veterans considered at high risk for suicide. The VA says this is being done to help encourage veterans to seek mental health treatment, because research shows that frequent medical visits can decrease the risk for suicide.

I applaud the VA for taking this step. I also humbly ask you to pay special attention during these coming months and for your assistance in helping identify veterans at risk for suicide. Please encourage them to get the treatment and assistance they may need.

No one knows veterans better than other veterans. We all share an unbreakable bond that was forged when each of us raised our right hands and swore an oath to defend this country. It’s a bond that continues even after we take our uniforms off for the final time. And it’s a bond that can turn someone’s dark spring into a season of sunshine.

 

If you want to find out more about the National Commander, you can find his biography here.