No one is ever prepared to lose a loved one, and especially not to suicide. However, for veterans and military families alike, loss is rapidly becoming a part of life. Military suicide rates are growing astronomically—roughly 22 veterans a day are taking their own lives after they return from their military service. Studies have shown that mental illness and physical injuries accrued during combat are leading causes to military suicide. This tragic truth can leave many military families devastated by the loss of their loved one, but fortunately there are several resources that willingly provide aid to those family members during the grieving process.

The American Psychological Association published an article called, “Grief: Coping with the Loss of Your Loved One” that involves some key points to remember during the grieving process. But first, the article enables a family member or friend of the deceased to grieve, as that is a very healthy step towards the acceptance that their loved one has passed on. Death is something that humans must accept, yet that does not make the actual event any less tragic, especially when a death of a loved one was premature, as is the case with military suicides. This is why the article encourages people to not set a specific time limit to grieve, as each person is different, and their relationships with others are different. Some people simply need more time to grieve and process emotions, and that is perfectly okay. It is far better to take more time than less to grieve, since bottled-up emotions have been shown to bring on physical and psychological ailments to those who refuse to accept their feelings.

But once the grieving process is complete, the article suggests that loved ones shift their focus to instead celebrate the lives of the deceased. How this is done is up to the individual, but the article does recommend that talking to others about the deceased helps jumpstart this process of celebration. When introducing the late love one to someone new, undoubtedly only the positives about that person will be mentioned, and thus it will be easier to see all of the reasons why that person’s life should be celebrated instead of their death singularly mourned.

But how can military suicides be prevented in the first place? Well considering that a majority of them stem from mental illness, perhaps researching mental illnesses and their devastating symptoms is a good place to start looking for a solution.

The U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs finds that one in five combat veterans suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), making it one of the more common mental illnesses. PTSD occurs after an individual experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, and is therefore one of the more common mental illnesses developed during or after combat. However, despite its commonality amongst such a large group of people, the medical community has yet to develop a cure for the disorder—a fact that causes veterans much despair. For them, the symptoms of the disorder can be extremely physically and emotionally taxing, and without proper treatment, can quickly take control of a veteran’s life. But in order to find inner peace again prior to their illness, a veteran might turn to suicide.

PTSD consist of three main categories of symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic: “re-experiencing symptoms,” “avoidance symptoms,” and “hyperarousal symptoms”. These symptoms can be boiled down to flashbacks and nightmares, feelings of guilt and depression, and trouble sleeping, respectively. Without any treatment of any kind for these symptoms, veterans can quickly lose their sense of reality and sense of self. They may also develop severe depression and feelings of alienation from their loved ones since they were the ones who went into combat. With such a meager outlook on life, it is no wonder that almost two dozen veterans take their own lives every day.

Fortunately, a non-profit organization has stepped forward to help prevent and even reverse the statistics surrounding military suicide. Operation: I.V., a 501c3 organization, was founded in 2012 by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams, who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to military suicide after he took his own life after suffering from undiagnosed PTSD. Randy was apparently tormented for years by horrific flashbacks of his service in Iraq, and eventually used suicide as a final solution to find peace again. Devastated by the loss of her son, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. to help other combat veterans who suffer from mental illness or traumatic brain injuries and might be expressing suicidal tendencies. The organization sponsors a “V.I.P.”, or “Veteran Intervention Program,” which consists of ten different holistic treatment options that are committed to improving a veteran’s overall health and outlook on life. Some of these programs include “Vet-2-Vet” therapy, hyperbolic oxygen therapy, and service dogs.

However, combating the growing rates of military suicide should not be the sole responsibility of just one organization, but rather a responsibility of the public. Veterans their families have already sacrificed too much with having their family members be deployed into combat—help alleviate the pain by spreading awareness and support of military suicide prevention. And for those who have already lost a loved one to military suicide, knowing that you are helping to save others’ lives, both those of veterans and their families, can truly be an added bonus to the healing process.

Author's Bio: 

Abigail Fazelat is a contributing writer for Operation: I.V., a non-profit organization founded by Gold Star Mother Roxann Abrams who lost her son SFC Randy Abrams to PTSD. Randy took his own life after experiencing a wartime flashback- an experience not uncommon to any combat veteran. As a result, Abrams founded Operation: I.V. as an “intravenous of help” for other Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, and contemplating suicide. Fazelat has worked for the organization since October 2013 under a pseudonym.