Twenty two headstones added each day. Military cemeteries have rows of identically shaped headstones aligned in precise, geometrically patterned rows. The rows line up neatly when viewed from any angle; they blend in unnoticed within the ranks of all the fallen soldiers, those who died in battle as well as the warriors who lived full, long lives.
According to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs report, in 2010 an average of 22 military veterans took their own lives each day. Over 6,800 American soldiers have died in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq over the past 13 years. It is estimated at 88,000 veterans have committed suicide during that same period, twelve times the number lost to both wars.
This issue is close to heart, as I lost my own father to suicide in 2002, over 30 years after he returned from Vietnam. I began talking with Veterans and Soldiers, to learn what they did to survive the peace. This journey resulted in the film “Souvenirs: healing after war.” Once the film was done, the conversations continued in discussions after screenings.
I haven’t met anyone indifferent to the loss of Soldiers and Veterans. People across the country express deep concern with the growing number of suicides. Suicide is often considered a personal conflict; yet with numbers such as this, it is clearly beyond the scope of an individual problem, it is a public health and policy issue that affects our entire nation.
Māra Pelēcis, Artist
Jānis Barobs, PR Coordinator