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And experts such as Haimov and the staff at NATAL are helping to address a very real problem in the United States. A Department of Veterans Affairs study released last year estimated that approximately 22% of all suicides in the United States from 1999-2010 were committed by veterans. Veterans make up just 10% of the United States population, and their rate of suicide is increasing at double the pace of civilian suicides. The majority of the suicides were committed by male veterans older than 50, but an update from the VA released last month noted an increase in suicides among men between 18 and 24, and female veterans of all ages.
What’s more, those statistics don’t account for all cases of suicide, since not all states report data to the VA. It’s not always possible to reach out to a victim’s family for confirmation of veteran status (for example, if the victim was homeless). And some cases are difficult to rule definitively as suicides (for example, if the veteran was found behind the wheel at the time of death).
The NATAL model is unusual because of what it provides to veterans after the initial call — namely, repeated counseling sessions with the same volunteer. Speaking with one counselor continuously helps veterans avoid retelling traumatic memories to a succession of different voices on the other end of the line. Counselors also direct callers to other organizations which help them set up appointments with psychotherapists, or secure government services they had been previously unable (or unwilling) to use. By using the NATAL model, WWP Talk is differentiating itself from other United States veteran hotlines, namely the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line, which focuses mainly on suicide prevention.
“I found it to be very necessary in Israel,” Haimov said. “Warriors, when they come back home, they struggle with so much — they have neither the energy nor the patience nor the capability to get what they deserve from governmental institutions.”
Haimov said she hears similar battlefield experiences from Israelis and Americans — “trauma is trauma,” she said — but that it is in actually dealing with the trauma that the two groups begin to diverge.
There are two key factors that affect the different ways in which Americans and Israelis deal with trauma — the nature of military service and the national culture. With some exceptions, military service is mandatory for all Israelis over 18, and almost every family is familiar with the demands of war. In America, on the other hand, military service is voluntary and most families have no experience with it. Importantly, the traumatic effects of multiple deployments for American soldiers are minimized for Israeli veterans. Haimov explained that in Israel, deployments are shorter and soldiers are able to return home to their families each month — after all, they are stationed within the borders of their home country, where a cross-country trip means traversing a territory the size of New Jersey.
But a more subtle challenge has to do with the cultural differences between Americans and Israelis themselves — like the way they answer the “how are you doing?” question.