Any suicide report is devastating, especially to those closest to the individual. Previous research has determined that an average of 135 people are negatively impacted by one suicide, acting as a “ripple effect” of emotional pain and grief. It is no secret that the VA and federal government remain stumped by the 21 veterans that take their lives daily, and that most were never even deployed to combat. The most recent VA/DOD report of suicides sadly reflect the fact that suicide rates among our military veterans has not decreased, even despite modest efforts by the VA to address the epidemic. The recent February 7th article in the Washington Post also speaks to the symbolic importance of the location of the suicides, quoting, “Veterans are taking their own lives on VA hospital campuses, a desperate form of protest against a system that they feel hasn’t helped them. Read the full story”
What seems not to be a part of the national discussion are the treatment protocols being used as the “Gold Standard” by the VA, and that these protocols may be contributing to the institution’s failure to decrease the number of lives taken. The Center for Post Traumatic Growth and the work of its founder, Dr. Melinda Keenan understand very well the issues and treatment approaches endorsed by the VA, and after 18 years of service inside the VA are now speaking out on the core problems. The VA, along with many other mental health institutions in the United States and abroad, embrace the “medical model” of treatment often prescribing psychotropic medications and superficial counseling approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT). Interestingly, these therapies have not shown to be effective within the clinical literature when it comes to combat trauma, and fail to address the root emotions that underly the overt symptoms of PTSD. Our contention is that many of our veterans suffer with Moral Injury, “as the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral and ethical values or codes of conduct (Moral Injury Project-Syracuse University). Furthermore, that Moral Injury involves the severing of human connection and loss often experienced in war. (Dr. Keenan) What must also be addressed is the unresolved grief, guilt, and shame that emanates from and within one’s Moral Injury. These type of wounds take some time to heal and recover from and require a collective or community approach in treating Moral Injury. Dr. Keenan refers to her approach as a “bottom up” one, learning directly from the over 10,000 veterans and countless hours of therapy over her career. The VA has yet to explore and adopt this type of treatment, and insists upon superficial approaches to treating PTSD, which mostly target fear-based, anxious, and depressive symptoms that most veterans and their loved ones know so well.