Opinion

OPINION: Band Of Brothers — Standing By America’s Veterans To Prevent Suicide

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Lt. Col. Kent Johnson Retired F-15 Strike Eagle, A-10 Warthog Fighter Pilot

We honor and celebrate the depth of commitment of our American warriors as they selflessly risk all on the battlefield. These combat veterans willingly assume enormous risks for us and do so with pride, courage and a sense of brotherhood.

In an epic scene in Shakespeare’s King Henry V play, King Henry V embraced his “band of brothers,” just as Steven Ambrose did in his superbly written World War II series, which was televised by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

But let’s speak bluntly: This month is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — and for many veterans, that is the next stage of combat. America owes them now to become what we should always have been: a national “band of brothers” ready to rise to help our veterans.

Facts are arresting: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released new numbers in its June National Suicide Data Report. Here’s the nub: Veteran suicides continue to climb. An estimated 20 veterans succumb to suicide every day, producing 7,300 veteran deaths a year. Frankly, one veteran suicide is too many.

While suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, veterans are particularly susceptible to suicide for reasons tied to their selfless service. Incidents are linked to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as well as losing a “sense of belonging” after leaving service.

Veterans who served in combat are at higher risk — a recent study conducted by the VA found that veterans serving during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during 2001-2007 had a 41 percent higher suicide risk compared to the general U.S. population. That should concern every single American, and every member of Congress.

How do we stop these treatable conditions and needless deaths? While the VA has repeatedly stated that suicide prevention is a clinical priority, current treatment options offered by the VA are limited. Veterans accounted for 14.3 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults in 2015.

In 2018, the rate is continuing to grow. Sadly, current treatments for PTSD, such as prolonged exposure therapy, may actually backfire, accentuating suffering by forcing those susceptible to suicide to relive their trauma. 

The time has come to employ new technology. One new treatment modality offers veterans real hope and may revolutionize the way we treat those suffering from PTSD, TBI and depression.

Magnetic EEG-guided resonance therapy (MeRT) is a non-pharmaceutical and non-invasive treatment modality being pioneered by an elite group of neurologists at the Brain Treatment Center. Unlike many options, MeRT does not treat symptoms. Instead, it attacks the EEG-identified root cause of the anomaly, without need for additional medications or pain.

MeRT assesses brain function and restores optimal brainwave activity by gently nudging brain frequencies back into alignment, via magnetic resonance. Restoring proper brain function, patients often swiftly experience better sleep, reduced pain, increased relaxation, improved mental clarity, and greater ability to cope with stress. Supportive data are piling up.

Glowing testimonials and accumulating data speak for itself. When tested in controlled studies, veterans averaged a 61 percent reduction in PTSD symptom severity after only four weeks of MeRT treatment. “I’ve gotten my life back” is a common statement uttered by those treated.

Promising outcomes have propelled the Department of Defense to undertake its own clinical trials on MeRT at Tinker Air Force Base. Medical professional from U.S. Special Operations Command and the sixth Medical Group also recently partnered to conduct further clinical trials at MacDill Air Force Base.

While amassing research indicates the potential of this life-saving treatment option, the VA has yet to integrate this treatment option or undertake its own clinical trials.  The delay is — in this Suicide Prevention Month and in all months — unconscionable. A key bill is pending that could be a game changer. The time is now to get it passed into law and signed by the President.

California Republican Rep. Steve Knight and Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue introduced legislation that would direct the VA to establish a pilot program on MeRT within two VA facilities. Passage of this legislation would result in a major step forward towards creating greater access to this treatment option for those who need it most.

This bill, known as H.R.1162/S.514, the “No Hero Left Untreated Act,” passed the House of Representatives in May 2017 with 56 cosponsors. The Senate version of the bill was also recently included in a legislative hearing, but at this point, it is awaiting further consideration by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill is endorsed by several prominent Veterans Service Organizations, including AMVETS, Vietnam Veterans of America, and the Association of the United States Navy.

The chance to give life back to those on the edge is at our fingertips. Our veterans need this legislation to pass — and quickly. The veteran suicide rate is far too high. It can and must be brought down. With each day that passes, we lose more of our nation’s heroes.

I implore Congress to act now and to help prevent more lives from being needlessly lost.  Let us act like a “band of brothers,” committed without reservation to each other as Americans, to get this done now.

Lt Col Kent Johnson is a former F-15 Strike Eagle and A-10 Warthog fighter pilot, political-military advisor on the staff of the Secretary of the Air Force (International Affairs), fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and senior adviser to the Royal Air Force think tank. Mr. Johnson currently works as an adjunct at North Central Texas College.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.