Two Iowa soldiers have committed suicide in the past three weeks. Patrick J. Palmersheim, executive director of the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, says it underscores the need to encourage returning vets — and members of the military, guard and reserve — to seek help rather than go it alone.
"I think one thing that’s unique to Iowa is Iowa does not have a so-called active duty military base with a hospital for these folks to go to," Palmersheim says. "Most of these are citizen-soldiers where they’ve been activated, then they come back — they’re at like a hundred miles an hour in Iraq or Afghanistan and then they come back at so much slower pace and then they just have no where to go."
So just this week, the Veteran’s Administration announced a new, toll-free suicide prevention line for soldiers is open now 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The number is 1-800-273-TALK. "The problem is that this is not a five-day-a-week, eight-hour-a-day situation," Palmersheim says.
"Usually it’s a weekend when something happens and we wanted to give these people a contact number where there’s always someone available, either on the state or federal level, wherever they have to go to get help."
Soldiers often are reluctant to seek help for depression or other mental health issues as they’re afraid it will go on their permanent military record and prevent them from getting promotions. Palmersheim says there are confidential places soldiers can seek help, and they can find those links by calling that toll-free number.
"The confidentiality is definitely a concern of these people because they want to stay in the military and if that’s going to make the determining factor, they will try to put up with it (rather than seek help)," Palmersheim says. Palmersheim often talks with soldiers and their families.
"Of course, usually the family member is telling me their loved one just isn’t the same. There’s something changed. There’s something wrong," Palmersheim says. "The soldier usually says, ‘Well, I can get through this. Give me a little time. I’ll get through it.’ The problem is many of these (soldiers) don’t get through it. They do need help and that’s where we strongly stress that they get assistance with this — the family and everybody. They need it."
One of the soldiers who committed suicide in the past month had just returned from Iraq. The other had just enlisted in the National Guard.