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Survey unveils how veterans best like to be appreciated as service member suicide rates increase

Veterans PTSD
Posted at 8:11 AM, Nov 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 12:56:00-05

Ahead of Veteran's Day 2021, mental health in veterans and active-duty service members appears to have reached an all-time low.

The Department of Defense recently released its annual suicide report, showing a dramatic increase in suicide rates for active-duty service members.

And according to the VA, veterans are over 50 percent more likely to die by suicide than non-veteran adults.

But according to a 2021 Veterans Day Survey conducted by the Cohen Veterans Network, there are ways the community can help support veterans and current service members and hopefully help curb these jarring statistics.

After surveying thousands of Americans, the study found that over half of veterans feel uncomfortable when they are thanked in public.

Janel Cisneros, a practice manager at Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the Up Center and Navy veteran, says receiving thanks from strangers makes her think of those who gave their lives.

"I think about the people that didn't come home with us," she said. "We want to thank them and not forget to honor them, so sometimes the 'thank you for your service' is a little bittersweet because we are here and some of our comrades are not."

The survey research found that what makes veterans feel most appreciated is when someone donates to a veterans organization, has a conversation with them about their time in the service, and when a home or business flies the American flag.

"When I drive through a neighborhood and I see flags in front of houses and see flags flown in front of businesses, and when they do fly them according to policy, they put them up in the morning and take them down in the evening, I think that's so respectful," explained Cisneros. "I appreciate that. It feels like an honor to me because it means so much to me."

Today also marks the first Veteran's Day following the removal of troops from Afghanistan, a conflict still weighing heavy on many veterans and active-duty service members.

"It does feel a little more difficult this year, because I feel like, was it worth it?" said Cisneros. "I want to remember it's worth it because when we walk down the street and see the flag flying, and people going in and out of stores, that's what all this was for. But, at the same time, it's hard to know that it feels a little unfinished, and yet they're still gone."

The survey also found that 67% of veterans want people to know their families serve alongside them, too.

Sarah Pitzen, Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the Up Center's lead clinician, says the ending of the Afghanistan war is not only impacting service members but military families as well.

"I think it goes back to their identity," said Pitzen. "Because we are no longer in war. Folks signed up to fight in a war and they knew what they were getting involved in. Being on the other side of that, not being in war, they're having to acclimate and [figuring out] what that looks like for not only them, but their families, because their families serve alongside them."

Pitzen says that the clinic's services have increased dramatically past year, with the Afghanistan war being one of the reasons.

"Military members who are transitioning out of the military, sometimes it's hard to navigate the system, so we come alongside those service members to fill that gap and help them navigate the system so we can get them the help they need," she explained. "Our team has expanded double and that's to meet the needs of the community."

The clinic also wants to remind people that Veterans Day is just the start of a hard few months for many active service members and their families.

During the holidays the clinic sees an uptick in patients who are without loved ones or feel isolated.