I proudly wore our country’s uniform for several decades. It was the honor of a lifetime to serve our nation. In spite of the honor that comes with wearing the uniform, unfortunately, for myself along with many of my brothers and sisters in arms, these years of service can take a significant toll.
Mental health problems and high suicide rates have become significant concerns for the U.S. veteran community. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough information on the crisis to properly confront it. We know that the vast majority of veterans who commit suicide do so with a firearm, but why? Is the problem gun laws, mental health treatment, or both? Which solutions would be the most effective? These are questions we don’t have the answers to.
We can arm ourselves with adequate insight, data, and the answers necessary to truly attack this problem at its core. But to do so, Washington must step up. The bottom line is we have a severe lack of proven, federal research into the correlation between gun violence and veteran suicide. Congress has chosen not to fund it. Right now, all of our assumptions are guesswork.
In the military, we are conditioned (for good reason) to be data-driven. Today, we have little to no hard data on the symptoms, warning signs, or proposed solutions. It is unacceptable that we do not have a better grasp of the underlying issues that cause too many veterans to take their lives day after day after proudly serving our country.
Currently, it seems Washington is spending all of its time prematurely debating solutions to the gun crisis. But until we have more insight into the problem of gun violence and veteran suicide, we will never know the proper course of action.
The federal government already funds research into every other major threat to public health and wellbeing, from heart disease to cancer to auto accidents. In fact, relative to its mortality rate, gun violence receives only 1.6 percent of the federal funding that other causes of death would receive. I would contend it makes sense to consider providing an adequate amount of resources into better understanding the escalating percentage of veteran suicide rates.
Significant studies of cancer, diabetes and other chronic ailments have saved untold lives, and research into gun violence and the correlations within the veteran community and suicide could as well. It’s time our congressional leaders step up and commit the appropriate funds to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to properly study veteran suicides by firearm.
In Iowa, we are fortunate to have two tremendous voices and advocates for veterans in Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley. I am confident they recognize this challenge and understand the need for action to help put an end to this epidemic to our men and women in uniform.
Robert J. Felderman, Brigadier General, U. S. Army, Retired
Last position in the military was Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy, and Plans for NORAD as US Northern Command.