An Air Force sergeant killed himself on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial
November 11, 2021 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Statistics tell us at least 16 other members of the military community also took their lives that Monday night and every night — the average daily toll — leading up to Veterans Day, when the nation thanks veterans for their service with a free 10-piece order of boneless chicken wings or a free doughnut.

Statistics tell us at least 16 other members of the military community also took their lives that Monday night and every night — the average daily toll — leading up to Veterans Day, when the nation thanks veterans for their service with a free 10-piece order of boneless chicken wings or a free doughnut.

Veterans know it’s bad and it’s going to get worse, with the 20-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the covid-19 death rate in the military doubling these past few months.

And when we tell them to go get help, help is hard to find. There’s a “severe occupational staffing shortage” in more than half of the psychiatric facilities veterans are sent to, according to the September Inspector General’s report on the Department of Veterans Affairs.


In his final post, Santiago worried about his legacy.

“On my way out, I can’t help to wonder if I ever made a difference in the world,” he wrote.

That’s up to us.


Although the overall suicide numbers of veterans have not increased as much as that of all U.S. adults, Page 6 of the 2021 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report shows that when the numbers are adjusted for age and sex, the increase is higher among veterans.


More Veterans Die By Suicide Than In Combat. But It's Preventable

Since Sept. 11, 2001, just over 30,000 veterans have died by suicide — four times more than the number of U.S. military personnel who died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you, or a veteran you know, are having thoughts of suicide, help is available 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255, text 838255, or visit to connect with a Veteran Crisis Line Responder.
posted by NotLost (23 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I was in the Marine Corps. I hate the expression "Happy Veterans Day!"
posted by NotLost at 8:16 PM on November 11, 2021 [19 favorites]

Archive link so people can get around the paywall, because this is important for everyone to read.

And a link to the Facebook post Santiago made, because following the link from that archive page can't handle it directly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:02 PM on November 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

I know better, because I have been told directly, than to say "Happy Veterans Day" or worse "Thank you for your service" to any of my veteran friends who served in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

On every level we owe them an apology and better services than any of them have ever received.

Thank you EmpressCallipygos for those links.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 9:34 PM on November 11, 2021 [16 favorites]

posted by Lizard at 10:12 PM on November 11, 2021

I expect few people know that the phrase "Thank you for your service" is apparently based on the title of a David Finkel about about certain soldiers and their PTSD.


Also. not about suicide but just veterans' benefits:

Service members have watched their once-vaunted military retirement system get whittled away, as well. Until a couple years ago, if you served 20 years honorably in the military, you were entitled to a pension equal to roughly half of your pay from when you retired until the day you died. Now, military members are required to pay into a system similar to a civilian 401(k), exposing military retirements to the whims of the market. Veterans are also witnessing ongoing efforts to fully privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But paradoxically, while our government has provided less and less to service members and veterans, our cultural obligation to venerating and thanking the troops has only grown. We give vets standing ovations at airports and sporting events, preferred parking spots at hardware stores and discounts at restaurant chains. Americans must fervently say “Thank You for Your Service” and suffer the consequences if they are judged to be insufficiently patriotic.
posted by NotLost at 10:37 PM on November 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

I expect few people know that the phrase "Thank you for your service" is apparently based on the title of a David Finkel

It's not, the book is 2013, phrase is in common use long before that.

posted by mark k at 11:21 PM on November 11, 2021 [9 favorites]

I read a post today on a Titan II facebook page about a bill introduced to the House in Jun 2021 that would "oversee" veterans' exposure to jet fuel and potentially reimburse care. Way too little, way too late.

Just over 21 years ago a soldier died on US soil - not by foreign combat but by missteps on the US side.

Occasionally when I hand someone my USAA debit card they say "thank you for your service." I say, "thanks, my dad was in the Air Force," but every time I hear that, part of me wants to say, "why the hell do you care? do you know someone who died serving their country?"
posted by bendy at 12:21 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

posted by torii hugger at 1:40 AM on November 12, 2021

Fuck the War of Terror.

2021-10-04 Bill Kristol and Scott Horton Debate U.S. Interventionism
posted by torii hugger at 1:42 AM on November 12, 2021

But paradoxically, while our government has provided less and less to service members and veterans, our cultural obligation to venerating and thanking the troops has only grown.

I don't think this is a paradox. I think that it is deliberately cultivated for lots of reasons, but one of those is to obscure the declining practical support for veterans.

(It was Remembrance Day yesterday in the UK, and not veterans day. And we have never treated our veterans that well in practical terms. But I think we still have many of the same problems.)
posted by plonkee at 1:56 AM on November 12, 2021 [10 favorites]

The video I linked earlier mentions troop suicide at ~22:00
posted by torii hugger at 4:40 AM on November 12, 2021

Capitalism has its priorities. Hence, low prices on things you don't need is far more important than actually caring about the veterans we supposedly are honoring.
posted by tommasz at 5:27 AM on November 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

free 10-piece order of boneless chicken wings or a free doughnut

Last Memorial Day, my local big box home improvement store roped off a parking space, decorated it with some flag-adorned flower boxes, and placed a sign declaring that space to be reserved for "servicemen who could not be here today".

I can't speak for military veterans, but to me this felt very tacky and even somewhat callous. Like, it's no longer enough to "thank" living veterans with 10% off all Black and Decker power tools. Now the deceased must also be included in the superficial "celebration".
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:28 AM on November 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

And when we tell them to go get help, help is hard to find.

I think the importance of this can't be overstated; we tell people stuff like "there is help" and "we support you" but often there isn't actually help or support and telling people that they should seek it out -- a difficult enough task when you're suffering from depression or other mental illness -- when it doesn't exist is beyond counterproductive. We need to have real mental health support available for veterans (and others) and I think a vitally important part of stories like this is creating the political will to provide that but it's so much easier to put the onus on the people suffering to "get help".
posted by an octopus IRL at 6:16 AM on November 12, 2021 [9 favorites]

posted by limeonaire at 7:02 AM on November 12, 2021

The best solution, of course, is the impossible one. Dismantle the military-industrial complex, so that future generations don't face these issues.
I'm an american, "served" 6 years in the reserve to partially pay for my education. Never once in my adulthood did I feel freer because US troops were in asia or the middle east doing what they do. Never once, even when they "got" Bin Laden, did I feel that the fetishization of the american military was deserved, warranted or desired.
I'm happy to observe the historical significance of Armistice Day, since, after all, it was a celebration of the END of a war, but clapping on airplanes (uniquely USian nonsense) and glorifying everything Camo at every single sporting event does nothing to ease the burden on soldiers returning from conflicts that never should have happened.
If only we had the will to take the proceeds from that obscene sale of weapons to saudi arabia and designate in solely to the VA and mental health services for vets.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:12 AM on November 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

I woke up on Veterans Day to a small wrapped box on my dresser. The kids had gotten me a much-needed new wallet. The card said we love you. That got me through the rest of an always difficult day.

Outside of therapy >I don't talk about it but people know and it's the thoughtless kind who congratulate me on having to choose between the worst decisions of my life.

I do all the cooking here and later that day someone gave me everything I needed to make dinner for six, prepped so I could just throw it together. I really appreciated that too.

There is a trans woman in my therapy group. That's what she calls herself. Got booted under Trump. Loved her job. The VA hasn't done shit for her and she is having a rough time adjusting to civilian life after 7 years in the army.

There is a tormented guy in my therapy group who accidentally killed a civilian. I don't think he is going to last much longer. He doesn't get much sleep.

Both of them came to dinner and we didn't talk about Iraq or Afghanistan at all. We played scrabble and dominoes with my kids and everything was alright for a few hours. We drank way too much and they both slept over.

That's how it is.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:18 AM on November 12, 2021 [43 favorites]

posted by Mr. Yuck at 10:20 AM on November 12, 2021

Where does all the money go? Doesn't anyone get held accountable for outcomes instead of spending?

(I know the answer, just a despairing rhetorical question)
posted by lon_star at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Several years ago, I interviewed a veteran of Afghanistan who had seen violent combat and — when I spoke to him — was about to open a solo art show based on the week or so that he spent involuntarily institutionalized by the VA. He talked about how he had been sent home with “bags” of pills — medications that were never explained to him. He felt that he and other vets like him were being overmedicated. All of which to say that it seems like even those who manage to get “help” through the VA face another world of issues.

I don’t have any first-hand experience with the military. A good friend of mine was a Marine and just published a memoir that I’m looking forward to reading. I feel like listening to the actual stories and concerns of vets is a far better way to honor them.
posted by Maaik at 3:17 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

That article is a gut punch and I respect WaPo for publishing it.

If you have even an inkling that you volunteered with even a little high-minded sense of patriotism and service, and you start to get a glimpse of the reality that your war was wrong, that you were used to fuel fat profits and a political agenda that prioritizes fat profits, it's got to be hard to deal with Thank you for your service.

Also, I think my brother's pancreatic cancer was probably caused by exposure to Agent Orange and whatever else was around AF bases in SE Asia. The US' addiction to military spending is deeply screwing the country.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 PM on November 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Every person who joins up know that they might be in combat at the command of their country. I'm not a fan of the US military in most things, but that fact is a thing that deserves recognition and respect, not maudlin perfomative patriotic bs.
posted by theora55 at 8:05 PM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

U.S. Army, September 1963 to July 1971, includes six months in Walter Reed Army Hospital before I they rendered a civilian.

To the last person who thanked me for my service: I guess I would be able to give you a sincere "You're Welcome" if I thought you had any idea what it was I did for which you are grateful. Whatever reason you had for saying that, it cannot have had a fucking thing to do with me. As it stands, yours was a minor intrusion for which I can smile and issue a short reply without letting the snark out. By the way, I was never spat on or yelled at by the anti-war folks that seemed to be everywhere in the late sixties, even when I traveled in uniform.

As an amusing point of interest, it was 2000 before anyone but my family ever gave me any welcome home. So I was stunned when this nice lady saw my hat and said Welcome Home. I had to sit down on the hood of somebody's car for a moment because my mind could not be bothered to deal with my legs. I wanted to scream at her, but for the life of me, I couldn't think why.

I am alive today because of a great LPN at the Roseburg VA who caught my cancer before it ate up too many of my bones.

Not all VAs are the same. I started falling apart in 1980. I sought help, first at the VA in Hawaii, where I'd attempted to go to university. The doc gave me drugs that left me feeling like I had a bag over my head. I was getting better drugs from my dealer. Returning to the mainland, I sought help from the VA in Fresno. My most memorable experience with that experiment was being escorted out of the building in handcuffs. I can cite several other examples of my voyage along this continuum, but you get the idea.

I finally got hooked up at a Vet Center, and after about a year in a group with other combat veterans, I acquired a couple of tools that let me avoid certain behaviors that, if continued, would likely have gotten me either killed or jailed.

Life gradually got better. I was lucky in so many ways. It was more blind luck to have survived than any effort on my part. I left a narrow wake of disaster in my path: too many wives, too many friends, and other debris that I just don't have the heart to list here.

Life is good, finally. It's an old joke among Vietnam Vets. Question: Well, when were you in Vietnam? Answer: Last night. Not week goes by that I don't review some scenario from my past. I used to be able to pull up smells, too, but I guess I've lost that memory. Now and then airports give me a whiff of jet fuel that stirs me a bit.

America is wonderful. Here we get to love the soldier, hate the war. Not like when I was in high school, when we got to condemn every one of those goddam Nazi bastards that fought for Hitler. Can you see, really see, why a lot of my fellows, my brothers of the badge, hate Jane Fonda? Well, I don't hate her; she was enthusiastic, but a bit too involved with her image to think through her trip to Vietnam.

Rave on, you all. Tell me how you feel about the guys who go fight a stupid war. I was a few weeks shy of my 18th birthday when I joined the army. I just wanted to play with the toys and jump out of airplanes. I was 19 when I went to war. It wasn't until after I got out that I was able to get any perspective, when I realized that I'd fought for the wrong side. Then I realized that the other side was wrong, too, but in a different way. Go figure.

Also by the way, please cut the VA a little slack. When you bitch about their care, try to remember that several thousands of them are dedicated healers, and they deserve respect of the kind that's owed to heroes.

tldr. Never mind.
posted by mule98J at 2:03 PM on November 14, 2021 [9 favorites]

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