Nationally recognized evangelist Franklin Graham grieved the tragic fact that every day, 20 veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces commit suicide.
Graham — who’s Samaritan’s Purse nonprofit organization serves wounded veterans and their families — took to social media this week to provide a sober reminder to Americans that those who have served in the U.S. Military are in dire need of the help of those who they risked their lives to protect.
To make the tragedy a sobering reality, the son of the iconic Rev. Billy Graham referred to statistics published by the Department of Veterans Affairs that were posted in USA Today, which revealed that an average of 20 veterans kill themselves on each day.
"Just released numbers say that 20 veterans a day commit suicide,” the younger Graham posted Thursday on his Facebook page. “In 2014, more than 7,000 veterans died at their own hands — that's more than the entire 15-year war on terror.”
He insists that these startling statistics are something to which Americans shouldn’t turn a blind eye.
“This is incredibly tragic," Graham continued. “[This is] something that should break your heart."
A perpetuating problem
According to the veteran department’s figures, the number of suicides declined from 2010, when the rate was 22 veteran deaths daily, but the drop of two per day is still viewed as extremely high and heart-rending.
And for the relatively small proportion of people in the U.S. who are veterans, this group of Americans makes up quite a substantial percentage of the overall population that commits suicide.
“[V]eterans made up 18 percent of all suicides in the U.S. in 2014 — despite only making up 8.5 percent of the population,” The Christian Post informed from the statistics provided by the VA. “In 2010, those numbers were even higher, with veterans accounting for 22 percent of all suicides in the country.”
VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin maintains that the minimal drop in veterans’ suicide death rate over the five-year period is “still far too high” and is no reason to celebrate.
Shulkin’s department pointed out that male veterans between the ages of 18 and 29 comprised the group of those who were most likely to take their own lives after their service in the U.S. Armed Forces — registering a suicide rate of 86 per 100,000 people. For a better perspective on how much higher this is than the average, statistics presented by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention show that the overall suicide rate in America is a much lower 13 per 100,000 individuals — more than 650 percent higher.
To combat the extremely high suicide rate of veterans, Shulkin said that staff has been added to the VA’s veteran crisis hotlines. He also mentioned that more and more mental health professionals and counselors are being added to the VA staff so that someone is always available to assist veterans who are going through personal crises.
Help from the Church
In addition to the services provided by the VA to assist hurting veterans, Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse has formed outreaches to wounded veterans and their spouses.
Every week of the summer, the Christian nonprofit organization takes 10 veteran couples to Operation Heal Our Patriots retreats in Alaska to rebuild relationships between wounded veterans and their spouses — with many coming to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Graham, who also serves as president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says the Alaskan experience mixed with biblical counseling helps to reground the couples so they can enjoy healthy marriages.
"They enjoy the beauty of God's creation, get to go fishing and bear watching, and most importantly, receive Christian-based marriage counseling,” the concerned evangelist shared. “Every week, we see marriages that were on the rocks get rescued and turned around.”
He says that besides saving marriages, the Alaskan retreat leads many to come to know Christ for the first time.
“Couples renew their wedding vows,” Graham continued. “We have couples come who don't know God or His salvation, and many find peace through a born-again relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.”
Realizing that healing is not a one-time event, but a process, the Christian leader points out that an essential part of his ministry is follow-up.
"Day after day, week after week, we are going to do what we can to help these veterans and their spouses,” Graham insisted. “And when they return home from Alaska, we don't stop — we have an incredible aftercare team that stays in contact with them and is available 24/7."
The nationally recognized reverend from North Carolina also urged Christians to do their part in helping out physically wounded and emotionally hurting veterans by reaching out to them and praying for them and their families. Graham stressed that it is essential for Christians to show these veterans sincere gratitude for serving their country and risking their lives, noting that just telling them “than you” and “God bless you” can make a world of difference for them.