» Letter to the Editor by Don McCasland

As we near Veterans Day 2011, it brings mixed emotions for me. The day is always filled with things like flags, parades and other outward and very public signs of thanks for veterans.

Of course that’s a good thing I appreciate, but for me it’s also a time of sadness and frustration with a twinge of anger.

On Veterans Day, as I do most days, I reflect on fellow vets and the sacrifices they’ve made for all of us.

However, what’s most upsetting and frustrating to me is what I see on the news and what I’ve experienced for myself firsthand.

The suicide rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan steadily and almost exponentially climbs every year.

According to a newly released report, currently, a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes.

A previous study showed that from 2005 to 2010, active duty troops committed suicide at the rate of one every 36 hours.

Think about that first number: one every 80 minutes.

To put it in terms readers can understand, that’s about the same amount of time a regular Tuesday/Thursday class on main campus lasts, and that’s roughly the same amount of time it takes you to attend a Monday/Wednesday/Friday class, then leave and walk to the UC for lunch or to check your mail.

That’s scary and sad to me. I’ve lost two friends to suicide and more often than not, the act of committing suicide is preceded by months or even years of mental and emotional anguish and turmoil.

There are many factors and issues which lead veterans to feel as if they have no other option but to commit suicide, but one factor is the feeling of being alone.

They may feel as though no one understands what they’ve been through, or what they’re feeling.

Another reason they may feel this way is something I dealt with when I first came to main campus in Fall 2009 — the feeling no one cares.

As I sat outside in the UC plaza trying to study, I would inevitably feel like I had to “scan my area” to ensure I was safe, and nothing was going on.

During this time, I would see people enjoying this exciting time in their lives, talking to friends or on their way to class.

But even surrounded by hundreds of people, I would feel “alone,” and like no one cared.

Knowing how that felt, I can see how someone in a bad place emotionally would be adversely affected by that emotion, and how that feeling can be “the last straw.”

So what’s the solution? There are many things that can be done, but one of the most basic, simplest acts anyone can do is care.

You don’t have to be a specially trained professional, just an average, everyday APSU student.

Veterans don’t mind being asked about their service, if they’ve been to a war zone or if they were scared when they were there.

And there’s no shortage of us on campus. As of 2010, there were approximately 1,800 veterans attending classes at APSU.

So, ask a vet, I’m pretty sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the reaction you’ll get.

Don’t know how to start or what to say? Feel weird about approaching someone
you know only by sight from the classroom?

That’s OK. All you have to do is this.: ask, “Are you a Veteran?” If the person says “Yes,” then answer, “I just wanted to thank you for your service.”

That’s all it takes — two minutes out of your day can make a world of difference to someone who may be struggling with depression or other inner turmoil brought on by things seen and done in combat.

Two minutes to make a personal connection with another human being are much more powerful and meaningful than a long-forgotten, faded yellow ribbon magnet on a car, more caring than some anonymous person in a restaurant paying for your meal but not taking the time to put a face to an act of generosity.

A simple act by a single person can be more powerful, more moving and can have longer-lasting and farther-reaching impact than any parade, any free meal or any bumper sticker or car magnet known to man.

Two minutes — an insignificant amount of time to you, a world of difference to a veteran.

To all veterans from all eras, from peacetime to wartime service, from the bottom of my heart, I cannot thank you enough for all you’ve done for me, for my family and for our country.

Enjoy your day on Nov. 11. TAS