New Orleans, LA — Veterans from all over the United States gathered in front of the New Orleans VA hospital Sunday morning for a march to raise awareness for the epidemic of veteran suicides currently gripping the nation.
It is no secret that the leading cause of death among active duty troops deployed to the Middle East is not combat or accidents, or IEDs — it's themselves. The Pentagon's own statistics show that this is a crisis but it is being ignored.
In 2016, the Pentagon examined the numbers, noting that a total of 55 US troops, in both hostile and non-hostile situations, lost their lives in foreign occupations. The number of soldiers who killed themselves was nearly 5 times that amount.
Not only are active duty soldiers tragically ending their own lives at an increasing rate, but once they finish their service, these numbers skyrocket. While the suicide rate for active duty members is certainly shocking, veterans kill themselves at a rate nearly 200 percent more.
The most recent data shows that a veteran kills himself or herself in the United States about every 65 minutes. That is 8,000 veterans a year.
If we look at attempted suicides, that number skyrockets once more to 19,000 attempts, of which 8,000 result in ending their own lives.
One of these attempted suicides was Air Force veteran John Michael Watts, 58, who approached the Georgia Capitol in downtown Atlanta around 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday and within minutes, he was engulfed in flames that burned 90 percent of his body.
Watts set himself on fire in an attempted suicide to raise awareness to the problems within the VA.
“These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin last year. “I am committed to reducing Veteran suicides through support and education. We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year, 14 are not under VA care. This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.”
Indeed, this problem is concerning, but the VA is not posing any real solutions, which is why this group of veterans came together on Sunday, put on skull masks to humanize the dead, and marched to the 2018 Libertarian Convention.
The "March of the Dead" was an event organized by activist and veteran of the USMC, Adam Kokesh.
"I’ve had a few friends and a number of vets I’ve known commit suicide. I’ve dealt with PTSD myself and turned down a big bag of pharmaceuticals from the VA," Kokesh told News2Share as the reason for organizing the march. "But for me, the motivation is all the guys I see struggling who I know would be better off with freedom to seek treatment without the drug war in the way. Twenty veterans will commit suicide today. How many wouldn’t with proper treatment?"
The march began at the VA hospital where, ironically, police quickly blocked all the veterans from being on the property. The veterans then formed up and marched to the libertarian convention—not as a protest��but to show support for the only party willing to apply solutions that will address this problem.
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Upon reaching the convention, the group of veterans, of which TFTP's Matt Agorist was a part of, presented a folded flag to the chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, Nicholas Sarwark. The flag was signed by all the veterans who participated in the protest
"As many of you in this room know, but not a lot of people in the country know," Sarwark said. "The Libertarian party is the only party committed to the solutions that will get to the root causes of the veteran suicide in this country: namely increased opioid addiction, not sending our men and women off to fight in other countries' civil wars, and generally promoting a policy of peace."
Because Agorist participated in the March as a veteran, TFTP's footage of the march is limited, however, Ford Fischer with News2Share made the powerful video below summing up the march.
War is the plight of mankind. It is perpetually waged by cowards too afraid to send themselves or their own children into harm's way, but who do not hesitate to send the poor or 'patriotic.'
When the state is done with its pawns of empire, it disposes of them like spent military gear. They then become unable to get the proper care they need for illness and injury related to their service. If they try to self-medicate to cope with the subsequent PTSD from being forced to brutally occupy a foreign country, these veterans have their children taken, face life in prison, or worse.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates that nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 140,000 are currently in jail, many of them for victimless crimes like drug possession for trying to treat their illness without pharmaceuticals.
As if the numbers aren't bad enough, veterans are often the target of unjust attention from law enforcement. On multiple occasions, the Department of Homeland Security has referred to veterans as potential terrorists and noted that they pose a threat to national security.
Lip service of 'supporting the troops' is proving to be the worst possible thing for them.
If you really want to "support the troops" you'll stop supporting wars of aggression in distant lands in which Americans are forced to kill people who pose no threat to the US.
If you really "support the troops" you'll stop blindly standing up for your government whose proven track record shows that they do everything but support the troops.
It's time for Congress to act on behalf of all veterans and Americans to legalize marijuana across the nation, end foreign wars of aggression, and reboot the VA. Too many people are in jail and are being charged with felonies for a plant—one that has demonstrated the power to treat the pain and depression of war, addictions to the opioids dished out by the VA, and most importantly—to prevent suicide.