With the death of actor Robin Williams this week, the topic of suicide and its effect on those family members left behind has been in the media continuously. Having lost one of my own family to suicide, I can attest to the devastation.
I caught a Facebook posting from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) today that deeply bothered me. If you have never heard of TAPS, it is a non-profit that “provides immediate and long-term emotional help, hope, and healing to all who are grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America. TAPS meets its mission by providing peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, casework assistance, and connections to community-based care.” TAPS is an amazing organization with a critical mission, and one for which I have had the honor to perform a small community service project in the past.
Among the many events TAPS conducts for military families who have lost a service member, it produces a specific annual National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for those families who have lost a service member to suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported in 2012 that approximately 22 service members (Active, Guard, Reserve and veterans of all eras) commit suicide every day, which is roughly the same rate as all suicides reported in the US. However, when only Active, Guard and Reserve member suicides are counted, it amounts to one suicide committed every 18 hours.
There are many military family members affected by this type of death specifically. Survivors will tell you that it is a very different type of grief to know that your loved one died at his/her own hand. That Active, Guard or Reserve member was likely that family’s only or main source of income, and the benefits afforded that military family (housing, reduced price daycare/groceries/healthcare, etc) disappear fairly quickly after the service member dies. So this event provides not only information for the survivors, but a critical peer support network of other survivors of military suicide.
The message TAPS posted today noted that, due to unprecedented response to the event, registration is already at max capacity and they are starting a waiting list. The event is October 10th-12th in Florida – two months away and they are already full and have to tell these grieving families that they will likely need to wait till next year.
Many of you know my primary focus is empowering organizations to recruit and retain veterans. I have written before about my weariness of corporations spending huge amounts of money to announce their veteran hiring initiative. This is my plea to corporations that they instead engage their foundations and corporate social responsibility leadership to put that self-promotion money toward solutions and services that will help veterans and military families who are dealing with loss, homelessness, disability and recovery, military sexual trauma, PTSD and/or TBI.
It may be too late to help TAPS do anything to reopen its October event to grieving families on the waiting list (but it may not – give them a call), but your company can definitely do a lot more to enhance and expand the programs TAPS and other deserving non-profits are doing in the months and years to come.