Advancing National Service

22 Veterans Take Their Lives Every Day. Here Are 3 Ways We Can Change That

April 23, 2014
22 Veterans Take Their Lives Every Day. Here Are 3 Ways We Can Change That
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Aaron Mankin helps set up 1,892 American flags on the National Mall March 27, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America installed the flags to represent the 1,892 veterans and service members who committed suicide this year as part of the "We've Got Your Back: IAVA's Campaign to Combat Suicide." Win McNamee/Getty Images
Jesus Bocanegra has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, a result of his service in Iraq in 2003-04. As part of his recovery, he attends support groups and therapy sessions frequently. Other veterans suffering from PTSD are not always able to, if they don't have Veteran's Affairs (VA) facilities where they live. Chris Hondros/Getty Images
The Runner & The Therapist is a film about veterans and post traumatic stress that aims to change the conversation on mental health in America. You can support the film by taking action on this story. Joey Dwyer Productions
Mental health is one of the biggest issues facing returning soldiers. NationSwell talks to vets and experts about what we can do to stop suicide.

Long after Jennifer Crane returned from her 2003 deployment to Afghanistan, where she worked as a liaison with the local population, the U.S. Army veteran was haunted by troubling images: tire tracks that led into mine fields, limbless children bleeding through their bandages, a fellow service member dying in front of her in a C-130 aircraft.

When she returned to her hometown of Coatesville, Pa., that fall, Crane, 31, found escape in drugs and alcohol. She slept in her car, lived on fries and shakes from McDonald’s and smoked crack. “I figured my heart would explode if I did it enough,” she says. “Drugs just became a way to hurt myself more than anything. It was, ‘If I can’t be the person I am, I might as well kill myself.’”

It was only after she was arrested for narcotics possession three years later that things began to turn around. As part of a drug court program, she was paired with a psychotherapist who changed — and in fact saved — her life. Cognitive behavioral therapy helped her deal with her post-traumatic stress (PTS) by enabling her to be “open and honest” with herself. “The more you speak about these things, the less power they have over you,” Crane says.


Crane is one of the lucky ones. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans take their lives every day, though the number is likely even higher because there is no comprehensive system to track veteran suicides.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) spoke of this statistic in early April when he addressed an audience of mental health professionals in Washington, D.C., about the needs of those returning from war. “There isn’t one therapy that is the silver bullet,” Ryan said, emphasizing the importance of providing a spectrum of solutions and then connecting the dots between them.

Here are three impressive approaches to combatting the veteran suicide problem.