Helping veterans in need

Roland Van Deusen

CLAYTON — Believe it or not, you can help, and it doesn’t involve money.

We can all do our part because we’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.

Nearly 18 years of war have produced no victories and no peace treaties.

Odds are that everyone reading this today knows somebody who knows a vulnerable or troubled veteran.

What sort of family and personal history led me here? Two uncles were retired career military.

In the early 1970s, the Watertown Daily Times ran a piece on my mother being the first woman civilian employee at Fort Drum to drive a fork lift.

We have photographic proof of the old saying, “Your mother drives an Army truck.”

She also served in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II. My father flew fighters in that war; my stepfather was a Marine on Okinawa.

A brother’s father was in the Korean War.

Another brother and I were Navy.

Mom and Dad, two brothers and I all worked at Fort Drum.

Due to Fort Drum, Jefferson County has had more killed in these wars than were lost by the entire state of Michigan.

During the 1980s, I chaired the Watertown City Human Rights Commission, positive ethnic relations being publicly perceived as one of many keys to a successful Fort Drum expansion.

These deep roots with the military and Fort Drum led to options I suggest you consider to join the fight against veteran suicide.

My article about this will be in an upcoming Combat Stress Magazine, an online scientific periodical that had 200,000 views last edition.

We made many suggestions that are also locally applicable.

Being unable to travel to address serious health problems, both medical and psychiatric, is a suicide risk factor for older Americans, including veterans.

A heart attack ended my volunteer driving for the Disabled American Veterans.

But if I could take 162 patients to the Syracuse Veterans Affairs Hospital on 45 trips in 2012, almost anyone out there could do more than I did.

They’re always looking for drivers, so call 315-425-4343 or email

Clayton River Community Church helped me make a no-cost amateur YouTube video, “To Veterans with Invisible Wounds,” that the VA and 30 other programs use.

Reading this, a lot of local military and civilians are better filmmakers than I am.

I’ve spent the last three and a half years online and on the phone with survivors of a Marine Corps battalion with 40 suicides.

Many local civic and church groups do Adopt a Platoon programs, helping with the physical needs of troops overseas.

It wouldn’t be hard to talk to VA counselors at any one of the many local agencies for advice on how you can assist as counselors’ helpers.

For instance, my veteran’s organization took up a collection and delivered 200 free phone cards so Syracuse VA Hospital patients could stay in touch with distant family.

Keep the Veterans Crisis Line number, 800-273-8255, near your phone.

Finding both distant Marine and local Army units with multiple suicides, I wrote in Combat Stress that we see indications that mental health screening for all discharging military personnel is necessary, doable and feasible.

You can all help by contacting your state and federal government representatives in support of this measure, which is long overdue.

Every local house of worship can welcome or sponsor a veteran support group.

These can be PTSD specific or 12 Step oriented.

For many reasons, combat PTSD sufferers often don’t get timely treatment and resort to self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups pass the hat and can pay a church for use of a room.

These programs work if one sticks with it.

There are a variety of 12 Step type groups: traditional, Rational Recovery (non-theist), Celebrate Recovery (Christian), Milatti Islami (Muslim).

These all have websites.

Whatever treatment for mental health issues a veteran gets, we recommend continued healing through self-help support groups.

Much is yet to be learned about veteran suicide.

And when human lives are at stake, we should always err on the side of caution.

Americans at war fight for each other’s survival.

This bonding is a double-edged sword when they come home.

If a veteran’s demons drive that person to suicide later on, it can put others in that unit at risk of survivor’s guilt because they couldn’t predict or prevent it.

This is how suicide clusters can occur.

Every family member, civic, religious or veterans group can be on alert to intervene on behalf of any survivors of vets in their unit who brought their war home.

Mike Haynie is most responsible for making my GI Bill alma mater Syracuse University the No. 1 private college for veterans, according to Military Times.

He sent me a study in the June 2015 Journal of the American Medical Association (Psychiatry Edition) of 3 million veterans.

He said it showed “a demonstrable correlation between bad paper discharges, compromised mental health and later veteran suicides.”

Troops in treatment are non-deployable in this age of multiple deployments.

Nobody wants to go into combat short-handed; commanders are graded on unit readiness.

A survivor of the Marine battalion with 40 suicides maintains that E4s and below are routinely railroaded, denied timely access to treatment for PTSD until they get in trouble for self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

They often receive military discharges so bad that they are ineligible for the very VA psychiatric help and benefits that they then need.

Ask your American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, county veteran service agencies, and state and federal politicians if military commanders are finding traumatized service members expediently disposable and replaceable and that’s what is feeding the veteran suicide epidemic; 19 a day equals 6,900 a year, equal to all the combat deaths from 17 years of war, more active duty suicides than combat deaths now.

You now have ways you can help, and a good number of you will come up with better ideas than I have.

Roland Van Deusen is a Clayton resident. He served in the U.S. Navy and is a retired counselor.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(1) comment


Thank you, Mr. Van Deusen, for your compassion and practical efforts on behalf of veterans.

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