Thursday, January 14, 2010

Military Family Suicides

When the military talks out loud about suicides in the military, it's a good thing. This week in Washington DC 1,000 people are attending a four-day Suicide Prevention Conference sponsored by the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration.  Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki were among many military leaders and medical experts in attendance.  The highest level of leadership and the array of experts should indicate that the military is looking for solutions to solve this terrible trending problem of suicides in the military.

I have attended numerous meetings discussing veterans issues where one of the topics is military suicides.  I have always been amazed that a military representative always acknowledges military suicides as an pressing issue but cannot figure out why.  I'm no expert, but let's try this short list. Repeated deployments, shortened dwell times, or time at home, stop loss, PTSD.  I could go on, but that's a whole other story.  So, I was glad to read that Admiral Mullen told the audience at the conference "I know at this point in time, there does not appear to be any scientific correlation between the number of deployments and those who are at risk, but I'm just hard-pressed to believe that's not the case," Admiral Mullen said. "I know we are and hope to continue to look (at deployments) first to peel back the causes to get to the root of this."

Deborah Mullen, Admiral Mullen's wife, accompanies him to many events that are military family related.  I met both the Admiral & Mrs Mullen at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day 2009 where I was makring the 5th anniversary of my son's death.  They were both walking through Section 60, where more than 800 members of the military who were killed in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried.  They were offering condolences to family members and friends, they offered hugs or a hand in friendship, so it was no surprise that Mrs Mullen attended the Suicide Prevention Conference.   SFGate reports her message to the attendees:

 Don't forget the spouses.
Deborah Mullen said Army leaders told her that they lack the ability to track suicide attempts by family members of Army personnel. "I was stunned when I was told there are too many to track," Mullen said, speaking on stage at a military suicide prevention conference next to her husband, Adm. Mike Mullen.
She urged the military to get a better handle on the problem and implement prevention measures with spouses in mind.

"There's another side to this and that's family members who commit suicide," Mrs. Mullen said. "It's our responsibility. These are our family members."
Military-wide, she said, it's not clear exactly how many military family members killed themselves last year. Some military spouses, Mrs. Mullen said, are reluctant to seek mental health help because it still carries an unfortunate stigma.
"Spouses tell me all the time that they want to get mental health assistance," she said. "As incorrect as this is, they really do believe if they seek help it will have a negative impact on their spouse's military career."
Mrs Mullen's message is spot on altough I would add one more thing.  Don't forget the parents.

I'm pretty sure that most parents who get that knock on the door consider suicide as one of their options, if only briefly, during those difficult days after they receive the terrible news of the death of their child.  I know of too many parents who want to crawl inside at the first view of the flag covered coffin. One more hug, one more embrace.  If only they could trade their life for their child's.

Please do not forget the Gold Star parents!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Name Them and Shame Them- Veteran's Charity (again)

There is not much that pisses me off more than a charity that sets themselves up as one who takes care of Veteran's but in reality only take care of themself.  If that doesn't piss you off too, then you just aren't paying attention. As a rule, I think many Americans want to donate some of their hard earned money to support the troops and Veteran's issues.  Since most people aren't touched by the war/s, it's one way that people can feel that they are involved and that they "Support the Troops".  The downside is, it seems that someone can form a non-profit, slap either "troops" or "Veteran's" in the name of the charity and they can be off and running with well intentioned donor's money. So, when people take advantage of the good nature and good intentions of others, it kind of pisses me off.

It's not that Roger Chapin is new to this scam; he's been at it for 4 decades and the mere fact that he has been at it for 4 decades puts him in the Hall of Shame for Charities.  Back in January 2008, I wrote in this blog about Chapin's reluctance to testify to Congress about his charities, Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV) and the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Foundation.  25% of the money donated went to the charities; the  balance went into the pocket of the administrator's.  At the time, The Army Times reported that lawmakers pushed Chapin and two executives of fundraising companies on the question of whether solicitations should disclose information about the percentage of donations that a group spends on fundraising. By far, the best exchange of the 3 hour hearing was this response to that question. "If we disclose, we'd be out of business," Chapin said. "Your words are wonderful, because if the public knew, they wouldn't donate," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. Touche'! If you want to hear the testimony, go here.

Now, one year later, Chapin and his charity, the Coaliton to Salute America's Heroes Foundation is back in the spotlight again and I don't mean that in any good way.  Forbes is reporting  "on its Web site the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes Foundation, the veterans charity run by controversial, self-described "nonprofit entrepreneur" Roger Chapin, says flatly that 75% of contributions received "goes directly to programs that help service members."  But the Ossining, N.Y., nonprofit’s own data from its latest, just-filed financial statements--issued under penalty of perjury--tell a far different story. Thanks mainly to high fundraising costs from sending junk mail, the Coalition’s actual level of charitable commitment was just 51%. That’s one-third less than 75% and a percentage that leading charity watchdogs consider unacceptable. The average charitable commitment on the annual Forbes list of America’s 200 largest charities, which uses a slightly different methodology and includes different kinds of nonprofits, is 86%. 

Roger Chapin is one of the bad guys, no doubt. This is his story, this is his life and if you believe in karma, he will get his, but he's not the only one.  Do not be fooled by slick websites or shiny pamphlets. There are alot of good charities that do support the troops and veteran's issues and sadly, there are many bad ones, too.  In the meantime, before you donate to any charity, please check them out.  Charity Navigator is a good source to check out verifiable data on many charities, including those that "Support the Troops".

Friday, January 08, 2010

R.I.P. SSgt David Gutierrez

3 little boys buried their Daddy today.  Their mom buried her longtime love.  A military funeral is heartbreaking on so many levels. The ceremony is made up of military traditions, the folding of the American flag that had recently covered the casket, the reading of the medal citations, the three gun volley, the Final Roll Call, the bagpipes, the presentation of the flag and the medals- "On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful nation....".

Notwithstanding the obvious, the problem with military funerals that are occurring these days is the young age of  the dead.  Today he was 35 years old, but since October 2001, our military cemeteries have been filled with young men and women 18, 22, 26.  No parent should bury a child and no one should die so young, but war brings that to a country and it's so sad.

Some days I wonder why I attend funerals of the fallen but one thing I know for sure is that one Gold Star family attended Ken's memorial and it was a tremendous help knowing that someone really, truly knew what my heart felt like that day.

Today, the city of Gilroy, California turned out to show their respect for Ssgt Gutierrez, who was killed in Afghanistan on Christmas Day.  The schoolchildren lined the sidewalk waving small American flags as the hearse carried SSgt Gutierrez to his final resting place. Citizens took a moment from their day to stand and watch the funeral procession go by, to honor this young man, who they probably hadn't known, but they did know the right thing to do was to share in this families grief, even for a moment.

We who attended the funeral mass and the burial did share their grief today.  The most heartwrenching moment of the day was hearing the sobs of the oldest son, Andrew as the flags were being presented to the family.  How do you explain to your children that their daddy is never coming home?

My thoughts are with the family and friends of David Gutierrez during this difficult time.  I am so sorry for your loss.