Friday, April 18, 2008 | 2:08 a.m.
Twenty-two-year-old Joshua Omvig shot himself in his truck outside his parents’ home in Grundy Center, Iowa, on Dec. 22, 2005. A local newspaper reported that he had talked to his mother shortly before killing himself. Among his final words: “I’ve been dead ever since I left Iraq.”
An Army Reserve military policeman, Omvig served 11 months in Iraq after being deployed in February 2004. A Web site created in tribute to Omvig, who had wanted to be a policeman since his high school days, says he died of “untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Also paying tribute to Omvig was Congress, which in 2006 passed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act. From this legislation grew programs within the Veterans Affairs Department ensuring greater attention to mental health issues.
A suicide hotline for veterans (1-800-273-8255) was one of the programs. It was set up in July at the VA hospital in Canandaigua, N.Y.
A newspaper in nearby Syracuse, The Post-Standard, published a follow-up story this week, and the statistics it cited show the continuing need for this first and only hotline specific to veterans issues.
The paper reported the estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 5,000 U.S. veterans a year commit suicide. Since July the hotline has received 37,000 calls, and the mental health professionals providing around-the-clock help at five phone lines (a sixth is soon to open) credit the program with preventing 726 suicides.
Some calls go on for hours, the paper reported. It quoted Jan Kemp, who supervises the hotline, as saying, “People have called from bridges and from the middle of the woods. They’ve called with guns and pills in their hand to say ‘goodbye,’ to express anger at the VA or the military or family or friends.” Some of the suicidal veterans are in agony from war wounds.
Congress and the VA performed a vital public service in getting this long-needed hotline under way. Further evidence of that was contained in a report released Thursday by the RAND Corp. that concluded 300,000 U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from major depression or post-traumatic stress.
Veterans were there when the country urgently needed them, and it is only right that the country be there when veterans have an urgent need of their own.