Female Veteran Suicide Rate Increasing

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Veteran Suicide Still a Growing Concern – Especially for Female Veterans

Veterans take their own lives at an alarming average of 20 each day. However, female veteran suicide continues to grow as well. What’s behind this alarming and upsetting trend?

According to the NPR piece, women veterans are two to five times more likely to take their own lives than civilian women. The audio discusses many common contributing factors to this trend, including:

  • PTSD
  • Financial concerns
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Family concerns

However, they mentioned a few additional factors that are a bit more troubling.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST)

Sexual assault and/or abuse is an issue that continues to pop up in headlines. It’s become a contentious issue that comes about in sports all too often. Regrettably, it is not discussed enough when it comes to the military.

Did you know that one in four women screened by the Department of Veterans Affairs reports military sexual trauma (MST)? I bet you didn’t. One of the case workers they interviewed in this segment told it in a very upsetting way.

Talking about military sexual trauma, females often do not report it because then they’re looked at as, ‘oh, you are the barracks whore or no one’s going to believe you’ or ‘it’ll get investigated and you’ll still get in trouble.’

It’s no wonder that MST is such a big factor for women veterans feeling suicidal. If they feel like there won’t be a resolution, how on earth could they even begin to come to terms with the mental trauma it entails?

The gun factor

This piece brought up an interesting point that many may not consider. Guns are an inherent part of military service. Men and women are both trained to use them the same. Thus, it makes sense that a female veteran is more likely to feel comfortable using a gun.

It’s a troublesome topic to discuss, but one that needs to be discussed. This NPR segments mentioned some VA statistics about this. If accurate, and women veterans are 33 percent more likely to take their own life with a gun than civilians, then we need to do a better job reaching to to those in crisis.

If you’re a veteran in need of help, or you know a veteran who is having thoughts of suicide, please go to the Veterans Crisis Line now!

Our veterans need our help, and we all need to do more to reach out and help.

DVNF Veteran Employee Spotlight – Nicholi Ambersley

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A Navy Veteran with a Great Perspective


As part of DVNF’s commitment to serving the men and women who stood in our defense, we understand the importance of having team members who have been in their shoes. The following story gives some background on one of the veterans working at DVNF.

Nicholi Ambersley, DVNF’s Donor Services Specialist, came to DVNF in 2016. This soft-spoken Navy veteran is originally from the island of Jamaica, having moved to New Jersey in 1997.

Nicholi spent nearly 10 years in the Navy, serving from 2004 to 2014. His highest rank was Petty Officer Second Class (E-5). He served at a Naval Operation Support Center (NOSC) in New Jersey for a few years. Here, he receive the duty of funeral honors. This role required him to make sure that those who served before and passed away received a proper military-style burial.

Nicholi, with DVNF Director of Operations, Leander Brereton.

To him, that was one of the most interesting duties he performed because it was unlike anything he had ever done before.

From changing the plane’s light bulbs, to working on its generators

His primary job during his service, however, was as an Aviation Electrician’s Mate, essentially working on jet planes, such as the EA-6B Prowler and the EA-18G Growler, performing maintenance on anything electrical in the plane. This duty consisted of everything from changing the plane’s light bulbs, to working on its generators.

While this job may seem somewhat low-key, it was a major role that put Nicholi in some dangerous places. In fact, he served 4 tours in Afghanistan.

“I served in Afghanistan, did four tours there, but I was never on the front line though,” said Nicholi. “I saw some things, yes, but never had to go into combat.” In addition to Afghanistan, he was also stationed in Kyrgyzstan for a time.

Favorite part about serving in the military

Despite the rough nature of those assignments, Nicholi also spent time in some more desirable locations. He went to places like Germany, Turkey, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, and a few other stations. His service gave him the opportunity to see the world. As a result, this well-traveled veteran has a positive view of his time in the Navy.

“My favorite part about serving in the military was the friendship and the bond you build with the persons you were with, no matter where they were from,” he said. “But also, it was the skill sets I learned that will forever be ingrained in me.”

Nicholi said he learned several life skills in the military that helped him during his transition to civilian life. From adaptability (a necessary requirement for military service), to leadership skills and time management, these assets have helped him make his way back to becoming a civilian after 10 years in uniform.

The transition to civilian life

That’s not to say the transition was an easy one.

“The toughest thing initially was waking up and not working on airplanes anymore and leaving the guys I pretty much grew with in my career,” Nicholi explained. However, he did say that he still keeps in touch with several of his friends from the Navy.

Ambersley’s struggles weren’t necessarily limited to culture shock. He faced another common hurdle that many newly-separated veterans face – finding a job. He thought it would be especially tough for him since he had some college experience but hadn’t finished. Nicholi possessed a security clearance, however. He assumed it to be something of valuable asset in the job search. Unfortunately, it was still a difficult process, much to his surprise. However, like any veteran, no challenge could stop him from his objective.

Advice to other veterans

We asked him what advice he’d give other veterans transitioning to civilian life. Nicholi gave a common-sense answer that may seem simple, but is ultimately quite shrewd.

“I’d tell them to make sure they know before they transition. Know what it is you want to do when you get out [of the military], know the steps it will take to get there.”

He added that these veterans should have a fallback plan in place. He suggested it is wise to have some companies or colleges lined up, just in case.

But Nicholi’s main piece advice? Tenacity.

“Be persistent, the military taught us that much, so don’t give up because you hear one or two ‘no’s.’”

Nicholi works to fulfill requests or answer questions of DVNF’s generous donors. It’s very different from changing a plane’s lightbulb or working on its generator, but we’re thrilled to have this veteran on board our team.

WATCH: Homeless Vet Talks About What’s Important to Him

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Through DVNF’s Health & Comfort program, the items that we send to stand down events to support homeless, low-income, and disabled veterans make a bigger difference than many might realize.

Wayne Stewart, a homeless Navy veteran in DC, spoke with us about his experience as a homeless vet, and which supplies that DVNF sent made the biggest difference.

“Toiletries! Because when a person is clean, looks good, smells good, they have a tendency to feel better about themselves.” 

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all of you [DVNF donors] – without your services, without your kind gestures and your kind thoughts, trust and believe me – it would be much harder for us. Thank you, DVNF!”

Countless veterans are helped through the Health & Comfort program, and each time a donor gives, we’re able to provide critically needed items – like toiletries – to veterans like Wayne throughout the year.

DVNF Veteran Employee Spotlight: John Paruch

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A Humble Veteran


As part of DVNF’s commitment to serving the men and women who stood in our defense, we understand the importance of having team members who have been in their shoes. The following story gives some background on one of the veterans working at DVNF.

DVNF employee, John Paruch, takes a photo with a veteran at the 2016 Wheelchair Games

John Paruch, DVNF’s Director of Corporate Sponsorships and Foundation Relations, has been with the organization since 2015. John, like so many veterans, is humble by nature.

“I always say I was a veteran in the loosest sense of the word. I didn’t serve during any conflict, and really didn’t do anything very significant.”

Many veterans often express this same sentiment. However, they need to remember that willingly putting your life on the line – regardless of the presence of conflict or not – is something that should be admired and respected.

John, originally from the Detroit suburb of Hamtramck, Michigan, joined the Navy when he was 17. He was was a Radar Operator onboard a couple different destroyers. The first was a WWII Class Destroyer, DD 866, the USS Cone. Then, after extensive intelligence and naval warfare training, he was sent to a Guided Missile Destroyer, DDG 39, the USS MacDonough. His home base was in Charleston, SC and the longest cruises he was on were for about a month. Both of them included stops at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Where he came from

John came from a modest background as a kid. He wanted to go to college, and he joined the Navy to make that dream a reality. 

Another motivation for him to enlist was his desire to see the world. However, he admitted, “I didn’t see much of it, but traveling to some of the Caribbean Islands was a big thrill for me.”

John, referring to his service as it related to combat, said he felt fortunate to have done so little, but to have received so much in return. Instead, he felt a sense of obligation to his fellow veterans.

“I like helping our veterans that did so much more than I did, and were injured or disabled as a result. I feel it’s the least I can do and think all Americans should help those who have made those sacrifices.” 

A dream fulfilled

John went to college and got his degree from Michigan State University after he completed his service in the Navy. He said that his time in the military had a lasting effect on him. As a veteran, John went to college a more mature individual. He said he learned some valuable life lessons which made him a better student.

We asked what advice he’d give to a veteran transitioning into civilian life. John gave a typically humble answer, but it was important nonetheless.

“Try to use the discipline you were taught in the military to make you a better worker, student, husband, father, or whatever it is you’re doing at any time in your life.”

John is as humble as he is friendly, and has a genuine desire to serve others. DVNF is thrilled to have him on our staff, and we thank him for his service – even if he thinks that appreciation isn’t warranted.

WATCH: Veteran Discusses His Experience with PTSD and Drinking

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PTSD and Drinking Can Send Life into a Tailspin

Drinking is a common activity that is usually ingrained in the military experience. But what happens when drinking is used as a self-medicating coping mechanism? Things can spiral out of control in a hurry.

Just listen to this Marine veteran’s experience with drinking.

When I drank, got drunk, you know, all the anxiety, depression, my purpose, the betrayal – all that, it went out the window …

For the next 3 years I was drunk probably – drunk or hung over 75 percent of the time. So when I went out I couldn’t just have one … and that caused problems.

For veterans struggling with PTSD, drinking might feel like a temporary solution to what you’re going through. Unfortunately, it isn’t a solution at all. If drinking has become a problem for you, and you’re ready to take control of your life, please check out some of the VA’s resources for getting the help you need.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

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April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and this is an issue that is especially relevant to so many veterans. There are many reasons veterans in particular can often be prone to misusing alcohol.

One aspect that increases the likelihood of a veteran misusing alcohol is that they are often predisposed to it as a part of their military experience. In fact, did you know that medical expenses related to alcohol use by military personnel average nearly $425 million per year?1

Perhaps alcohol is used as a bonding tool or even a team-building exercise, or maybe for others, it’s seen as an escape route from handling a difficult experience. Either way, it’s something that most service members are familiar with before they even leave the military.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism demonstrates just how prevalent the alcohol culture is for military personnel:

Frequent heavy drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks on one or more occasions per week, occurs among a substantial proportion of U.S. military personnel and varies as a function of military demographic characteristics. In a large-scale survey, Bray and Hourani (2005) found that the prevalence of frequent heavy drinking in the military from 1980 through 2005 ranged from 15 to 20 percent.2

15 to 20 percent.

But what happens once somebody leaves the military? The difficulty of this transition is well documented, and it affects most veterans in some way or another. Veterans are thrust into a very different world as civilians, and must learn to adapt to a life that is very different from the one they have known during their service.

Veterans have to find a job based on a resume from military service that’s filled with terms civilians can’t comprehend, they’re forced to find an identity that isn’t based on rank or MOS, and for some, they have to come to terms with the mental effects of combat.

In fact, according to the NIAAA, combat and alcohol abuse have a very strong correlation.

In one population-based study of 88,235 veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), Milliken and colleagues (2007) found that 12 to 15 percent of veterans endorsed problematic alcohol use in the 3 to 6 months following their return from combat. These data suggest that alcohol misuse occurs among a substantial number of veterans who are exposed to combat-related traumatic stress and highlight the importance of understanding the relationships between stressful military experiences (e.g., combat and military sexual trauma) and alcohol misuse.3

Not only that, but 60 to 80 percent of Vietnam veterans seeking treatment for PTSD have an alcohol use problem as well, according to the VA.

It doesn’t seem surprising then, that veterans often turn to a familiar substance that was ingrained in their military experience – alcohol.

Alcohol is often used to self-medicate, and to “numb” the painful thoughts and feelings associated with mental trauma. However, this is a double-edged sword, because while alcohol may limit one from having to relive the emotional pain of a traumatic experience, it also encourages avoidance. This avoidance doesn’t help solve the problem, it usually makes it worse.

 

This month, DVNF wants to help raise awareness of the effects alcohol has on veterans – not only veterans in transition, but also veterans with PTSD and homeless veterans who are especially prone to substance abuse.

Please help us spread the word this April. We want to make sure that the men and women who served in our defense are equipped with the knowledge and resources they need to seek treatment. There’s no shame in getting help, and for those suffering from a substance abuse problem, treatment can ultimately save your life!

Please visit the VA’s Veterans Alcohol and Drug Dependence Rehabilitation Program for more information on getting help.


Sources

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arcr344/401-407.htm

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/problems/ptsd-alcohol-use.asp