Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, testified to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last week about her son, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress, and his struggles to obtain adequate treatment. Hunt reported frustrations with the Department of Veterans Affairs bureaucracy and that, despite incapacitating depression and panic attacks, treatment amounted to little more than prescription drugs and little or no counselling. Selke said that her son tried to move forward in his life, working with other veterans and participating in volunteer humanitarian aid following earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. Nonetheless, he took his own life in spring of 2011.
The VA reports that 22 veterans per day commit suicide, roughly triple the average for the general population. Writing in his 2013 book, “Thank You for Your Service,” journalist David Finkel reported that between 20 and 30 percent of the nearly two million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan return home with post-traumatic stress, suffering from “[d]epression, anxiety, nightmares, memory problems, personality changes, suicidal thoughts.” He called it “the after-war.” Finkel also reported the inadequacy of the Pentagon and the VA in dealing with these problems, following two long wars and the multiple deployments of many in our all-volunteer forces.
Susan Selke’s testimony was in support of a bill, sponsored by Senator John McCain and named for Hunt, to improve the VA’s mental health system by requiring the Pentagon and the VA to submit to an independent review of their suicide prevention programs, offer financial assistance to psychiatrists who agree to work for the VA, and establish a website that would serve as a resource tool for veterans seeking mental health services.
The bill is both modest and crucial, because post-traumatic stress is a formidable threat. After recovering from wounds he received in Iraq, Hunt volunteered for Marine Scout Sniper School, graduated, and was deployed to Afghanistan. If a war hero with Hunt’s determination and self-awareness can be overwhelmed by such a debilitating condition, how many others will be crushed by the “after-war” unless the government dramatically steps up its efforts to help them?