Guest columnist: Needs of returning troops often forgotten
Danette Hayes is a Buffalo Grove-based author and blogger and a military family advocate and spouse of Brigadier Gen. Richard Hayes, who is responsible for the 13,000 Army and Air Guard soldiers and their families in Illinois.
This election season, we've heard our national and local politicians talk about the economy and our fiscal crisis. What's missing from the discussion is our soldiers and how to ensure adequate funding to make them whole again when they return to their homes.
In the Northwest suburban area, there are roughly 13,000 military members and their families living in our neighborhoods, not counting Great Lakes. Illinois ranks fifth in the country with more than 38,000 personnel, families and retirees residing here. The economic impact of the Great Lakes training facilities alone is $1.8 billion annually, and still our local politicians can't tell you how many troops live in their district or what they plan to do to raise the issue of suicide awareness in their communities. As a military spouse and advocate, I see this not just as sad, it's wrong.
Eleven years into war we're losing more soldiers to suicide than on the battlefield, and not one candidate is talking about it. Another local National Guard soldier took his life this earlier this month. The weekend before he died he participated in Stand Down, the Army's 24-hour servicewide day of mandatory training aimed at combating record numbers of suicides among active-duty and reserve/national guard troops. As diligent as the military has been to eliminate any stigma regarding a soldier's need to seek help, it can't reach them all.
A soldier "thinks" of committing suicide every 36 hours. A soldier "ends" his or her life every 80 hours. The average age today of a soldier who kills himself or herself is between 17 and 21.
It's not just the soldier who is in need of support — it's the spouse who also suffers from anxiety or PTSD from the fear of deployment that ignites the symptoms, or the child with special needs who must now adapt to life without a parent.
According to an Oct. 19 Department of Defense news release, in 2012 there have been 247 potential suicides among our military. In 2011 there were 283 confirmed suicides.
It's no longer OK for our candidates to skim over the issues facing military families. A veteran's link on a candidate's webpage is not indicative of an offer for support. If it were, we'd be hearing discussions about suicide, PTSD, traumatic brain injury and all the ailments raging war on our soldiers and their families.
Our defense budget is 2 percent of GDP and has grown by 9 percent yearly since 2001, yet our domestic budget has decreased steadily during that time. It will take two decades for Medicare and Social Security to reach 2 percent of GDP. Yet that's what our candidates are talking about. As a society we cannot continue to burden the Veterans Affairs without accepting responsibility and providing care for our soldiers and their families. It's not enough to say "thank you" anymore.
President Eisenhower warned the American people that "the power and greed of the military complex overshadows our place on this earth as a free people, a public that is now overwhelmed by political manipulation, not compromise; the power of a few have been paid for by the needs of the many and that democracy for the next generation is slowly becoming the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."
I hope Americans think long and hard before casting a vote that could lead to more war, more economic hardship. I pray we ask more from our elected officials in the face of war than we have of the soldiers and their families.
• Danette Hayes, a Buffalo Grove-based author and blogger, is a military family advocate and wife of Brigadier Gen. Richard Hayes, who is responsible for the 13,000 Army and Air Guard soldiers and their families in Illinois.
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