Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keith Heithoff of Elgin made one primary point during Memorial Day services in Albion on Monday, May 29.
He cited the high rates of suicide among military veterans, and urged more awareness of their mental health needs among the general public.
“All lives are important,” said Heithoff. “We can’t afford to keep losing our soldiers at the current rates.”
Everyone can help improve the lives of returning veterans by being aware of behaviors that might put them at risk of suicide, and notifying the proper agencies to get assistance for them.
Heithoff, a Purple Heart recipient in 2007, said physical wounds tend to heal faster than mental and emotional wounds of combat. Soldiers who don’t get help for their psychological needs “will often tend to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs,” which causes problems for them and their families.
A 2016 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs shows that roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide.
In 2014, the latest year available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America. Veterans make up less than nine percent of the U.S. population.
About 70 percent of veterans who took their own lives were not regular users of VA services.
Heithoff, who now farms near Elgin, served 32 years in the Army and 26 as an infantry officer. He expressly thanked the families of veterans, who cope with the aftermath of combat service and often make sacrifices.
Read more in the May 31 Albion News Print & E-editions.