Paul Andersen: Stop the fingers from pulling triggers on veteran suicides
In answer to the current crisis of 20 veteran suicides per day, the Trump White House has announced an “ambitious new” plan.
Rather than addressing root causes of suicide, however, the Trump team is trotting out the same old practices that have been failing the VA for decades.
“Ending the tragedy of veteran suicide demands bold action at every level of society,” Donald Trump stated, describing the crisis as a “grave tragedy.”
Critics said the plans are disappointing due to a lack of input from veterans who best understand the issue. The Washington Post reported that specifics of the plan are “elusive.”
Trump said as much, declaring that “nobody quite understands” the problem.
Meanwhile, another 20 veterans — most of them using firearms — will take their lives today.
As executive director of Huts for Vets, understanding the problem has been crucial to our operations. Huts for Vets is a nonprofit, based in the Roaring Fork Valley, that provides healing opportunities for veterans at the 10th Mountain Division Huts of Aspen.
We stake our hard-earned reputation on a unique formula as described by a woman veteran who wrote a blog about her trip with us last summer.
“A year ago, I almost lost the internal battle with myself. Each day it would take me hours to coax myself out of bed. I was disappointed each day that I woke up, wishing I could end my pain and sleep forever.
“My bed was where I felt safest. During the day, I lived in a soft, hazy place in between sleep and awake. Gradually, I began dodging people that cared about me because I knew they could see my pain.
“You see, for the past several years, I wasn’t boding well. I was overtaken by unhealthy thoughts and ideas. Happiness was something that seemed so far away, out of reach. Every day was exhausting. Every day was a nightmare.”
Such haunting despair is shared by many of the men and women veterans Huts for Vets serves. Our formula includes wilderness immersion, camaraderie, philosophical discussions and unconditional, nonjudgmental love.
This Air Force veteran from Alaska learned about Huts for Vets from a podcast. Any seasoned hut tripper will relate to her experience hiking the wilderness and communing at the hut.
“I discovered that shared suffering leads to unbreakable connections. There is something about being dirty, wet, cold and exhausted that forced us to look one another in the eyes and smile. When I was at the end of my rope and the other person at hers, we found a secret joy and sense of pride that we were surviving this together.
“I learned that Shinrin-Yoku (or forest bathing) means becoming one with the forest, and that is what we did … together. The healing that took place at Margy’s Hut over those few days was incredible. We laughed and we cried and sometimes we laughed until we cried.
“I felt unconditionally loved and accepted for the first time in years. Could it be that the rain washed away all of our pain and suffering, at least temporarily? Who knew that philosophical exploration of literature and wilderness therapy could heal a group of broken veterans?
“Today, when I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I use the skills that I learned in Aspen to reconnect with nature. Thank you, Huts for Vets, you may have saved my life.”
A woman veteran after a HFV trip this June — the only trip we are able run in 2020 because of COVID — wrote: “I am crying and it is touching the deepest parts of my heart to try to put into words the things that I have experienced.”
While the White House prescribes studies and trigger locks, Huts for Vets brings veterans to the Roaring Fork Valley’s beautiful mountain huts for the psycho-emotional benefits of wilderness and the love and camaraderie that can save lives.
Reducing veteran suicides takes more than studies and trigger locks. What’s needed is a meaningful body/mind/spirit transformation that can cause the brain to stop the fingers from pulling the triggers that end the lives of 20 veterans every day.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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