Saturday, October 12, 2013

Legionnaire Testifies on Suicide Epidemic

Barbara Beebe
Barbara Beebe
ALBANY -- Legionnaire Barbara Beebe told the New York State Assembly hearing Oct. 8 that she was there to speak on behalf of those who can no longer speak for themselves -- the rapidly growing number of veterans who are dying at their own hands.

"Suicide is an epidemic," said Beebe, an Air Force veteran, wife of an Air Force veteran, former Broome County American Legion commander, and immediate past commander of the Department of New York's 6th District.

Her son, an Air Force and NY Army National Guard veteran, took his own life earlier this year. Staff Sgt. Bruce A. Beebe had served in Honduras, Germany and Afghanistan.

The hearing was conducted jointly by the Committees on Veterans Affairs and Mental Health, and the Subcommittee on Women Veterans.

Referring to veteran suicides as "unnoticed killing fields" right here at home, Beebe cited a study in the American Journal of Public Health: "Preliminary figures suggest that being a veteran now roughly doubles one's risk of suicide. For young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples the risk of suicide."

She pointed to a report in the New York Times: "For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying at their own hands." Last year more than 6,500 veteran suicides were recorded, she said, which is more than the total number of American servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.

She lauded the Veterans Administration (VA) for establishing a suicide hotline and appointing suicide-prevention coordinators. The effort, she said, is "chipping away at a warrior culture in which mental health concerns are considered SISSY."

She pointed to another New York Times quote: "We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don't much help men and women exorcise the demons of war… We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home, we don't protect them."

Beebe said that what's being done is not enough, and called for more "awareness and intervention."

She asked legislators to do two things. First, keep funding and supporting programs and groups that reach out to men and women in uniform and veterans -- such as Yellow Ribbon ceremonies, Family Care Programs, Suicide Prevention Programs, Job Fares, public service announcements about post traumatic stress and suicide prevention.

Then step it up. If there are mass media campaigns for smoking cessation, not drinking and driving, and not texting while driving, then there needs to be a similar effort for suicide prevention among veterans -- from the symptoms of creeping post traumatic stress to the better choice of seeking help.

As she was about to finish, Beebe removed her Legion cover and said: "Now I'm a mom. Put your feet in my shoes and you'll know where I'm coming from."