Soldiers of the 3rd U. S. Infantry Regiment (the Old Guard) salute as Taps is heard in the vicinity of the Arlington National Cemetery. Alington, Virginia, May 25, 2017.
The number of suicides among vets is not improved, and remains a very disturbing problem, in spite of the work by the VA and others, according to a VA analysis and statistics obtained by Fox News.
Last week, the VA released findings of a year-long study of veteran suicide data from 2005-2015 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The findings are clear: the number of suicides is constant.
Veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as non-veterans, according to the VA report. In addition, VA researchers found the number of vets that take their own lives every day “was unchanged at 20.” And even more recent data, obtained by Fox News suggests it’s not much better in 2018.
Even for the mother of a U.S. Marine who took his own life after battling PTSD, and who has since devoted her own to prevent veteran suicides, the numbers are stunning.
“I had no idea it was that bad,” said Janine Lutz. “That is really lighting a fire under my ass to work harder.”
The Veterans Crisis Line provides 24/7 support for veterans in need, but also concerned friends and family members. Staff members are available by phone at 800-273-8255 (Press 1), online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat and via text to 838255.
The volume of phone calls the Crisis Line, it is staggering. The VA told Fox News that since October 31, 2017, the Veterans Crisis Line has fielded approximately 222,000 calls from veterans who have thoughts of suicide. That is in addition to the 49,000 calls from family members or friends concerned about a veteran who is considering suicide.
That breaks down to nearly 950 calls from veterans (or almost 40 calls per hour) every day since Halloween, and the more than 200 calls per day for friends and family.
Lutz, who li ves in Florida, affectionately known by many in the veterans community as “the mother of all battalions,” for her efforts to veterans of all colors together, and the occurrence of more veteran suicide, via the LCpl Janos V Lutz Live To Tell Foundation.
Lutz began the Life To Tell, in honor of the memory of her son, “Jonny,” a Marine, his own life, while under the influence of a closet’s worth of medication for his PTSD. Since then she has sued the government for her son’s death, to ultimately win a settlement out of court, but her work is not everything.
“About five months after [Jonny’s] death, I woke up one day and that I was crazy,” Lutz told Fox News. “I was mad knowing that my son was not the first to die. And I said: why don’t someone tell me… why aren’t we doing more as a community? And it was then I decided that I’m going to the voice, and the fight for those who fought for us.”
(Live to Tell Foundation)
It was only a year after her son’s death that Lutz made her first foray into the advocacy, organizing a motorcycle rally that brought an unexpectedly large number of people from all over the country. She was excited about the hundreds of supporters who turned out, but not sure what to do.
That was until Lutz’s niece played a song for her that she says “grabbed me by my chest,” and inspired a plan to save the lives of Veterans across the country:
“It is time to mate ’cause yup, this is wrong.
The survival of the battle, but die when we get home.
Yes, it hurts, that is why I made this song.
It is time to see the signs, such as the lighting when it’s on.”
Those lyrics are from the song “Red Flags” by Soldier Hard, is an artist whose real name is Jeff Barillaro and who also happens to be an Army soldier. Barillaro is dedicated to creating music that gives a voice to veterans, and the problems that they experienced, together with their friends and family. When Lutz heard of the lyrics for his song, she says that she immediately knew what she had to do.
“He said,” you all need to buddy ” … and he was talking with the veterans that are out there,” Lutz says. “When I heard that, I said, that’s it. I go for these guys with each other, the building of local communities, promote – I don’t know how, but that’s what I’m going to do.”
With the help of Soldier Hard song as the inspiration, Lutz has since the creation of the two “Lutz Buddy up” social clubs, one in Florida and one in Massachusetts, and this summer she is a tour through the country in the hope of the creation of even more. The concept is simple: bringing the veterans together (and even the first spot), so that they can support each other while sharing a meal, playing a game or two, or simply chat.
“We are pleased with our veterans just as they are, where they are,” Lutz says. “What mentality they are in, we welcome them. All we want to do is connect them with their colleagues, and it is just a great success. Dozens and dozens of success stories.”
Lutz says the membership has skyrocketed from a handful back in 2014, to more than 500 in 2018 – including veterans of every AMERICAN armed conflict since the Korean War.
Asked what she would tell veterans that might be suffering in silence, or friends and family, who may be concerned about a veteran they know, Lutz says to remember that the connection with colleagues is the key.
“They need to speak to their colleagues, someone who has walked in their shoes,” Lutz says, before pointing out that this is exactly the philosophy soldiers on the battlefield.
(2011 Getty Images)
“That is what they are fighting, to keep the man next to them in life… Yes, they have a mission, but the biggest part is making sure the guy next to you is alive and well,” Lutz says. “You’re watching each other, and that is what they have to go through when they get home…
“So if you have any local friends you know, find in your community, because they are everywhere, and they are looking to help,” Lutz says. “Reach out to other veterans in your area, because that is your best medicine – your peer who has walked in your shoes.”
If you are a Veteran in crisis or thoughts of suicide, or if you are someone who knows that a Veteran in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also go online on the chat VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or send a text message to 838255.