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Quieting the Ghosts of War

Veterans retreat at Blue Bay to help deter veteran suicide

By Lailani Upham

BLUE BAY — Serving the country of the United States for freedom is not free.

However, the summer camp for military veterans and their families is.

The cost of serving oftentimes is a troops’ life at war – or after.

According to a figure released by the Department of Veterans Affairs last February 2,1 states reported from 1999 through 2011 that nearly every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher. Those states represent about 40 percent of the U.S. population.

“The Summer Retreat – Honoring Veterans and their families” will be held Friday, July 11- Sunday, July 13.

According to Constance Morigeau, CSKT Tribal Social Services Director, it is the last big event for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Services Circle of Trust Suicide Prevention program funded by the SAMSA grant to acknowledge veterans and their families – and bring healing and support to old and new veterans.

According to the former Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki combat stress is just one reason why veterans attempt suicide.

The VA’s suicide report for February 2013 stated that more than 69 percent of all veteran suicides were among those 50 and older. Adding that mental-health professionals said one reason could be that these men give up on life after their children are out of the house or a longtime marriage falls apart. They are also likely to be Vietnam veterans, who returned from war to a hostile public and an unresponsive VA.

The VA report included that combat stress was chalked up as being crazy, and many Vietnam veterans lived with ghosts in their heads without seeking help.

Although the reports indicate more older veterans are committing suicide, it is difficult to predict what the toll of America’s newest wars will be.

A survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 30 percent of service members have already considered taking their own life, and 45 percent said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

Brian Kinsella, an Iraq war veteran who started “Stop Soldier Suicide,” the first national civilian non-profit organization dedicated to preventing active duty and veteran suicide, stated, “There’s probably a tidal wave of suicides coming.”

A recent analysis by News21, a project by Carnegie-Knight News 21 Program, a national multimedia, investigative reporting project, “Back Home: The Enduring Battles Facing Post-9/11 Veterans” found that the annual suicide rate among veterans is about 30 for every 100,000 of the population, compared with the civilian rate of 14 per 100,000.

The project’s analysis of records from 48 states found that the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011 -- more than double the rate of increase for civilian suicide.

The News21 analysis added that nearly one in five suicides nationally is a veteran. Veterans make up about 10 percent of the U.S. population.

President Barack Obama says there is a need to “end this epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops.” In August 2012, he signed an executive order calling for stronger suicide prevention efforts. A year later, he announced $107 million in new funding for better mental health treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, signature injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Although this is the last of a five-year funding for the CSKT Circle of Trust program Morigeau hopes the next five-year proposal will be approved this fall.

Camping for the retreat is free for CSKT tribal members; however if non-member veteran and families want to camp the entire three-days the CSKT tribal program will be happy to assist in a deal.

All three meals are provided along with childcare.

The three-day event will feature a peaceful and healing time for war veterans and at the beautiful Blue Bay CSKT tribal campground on the east shore of the lake, approximately ten miles with a daily line-up of local veteran presenters who will be sharing their stories, experiences and topics related to veterans.

The opening of the retreat will feature a war dance and traditional song, along with a Warrior Society welcome featuring Frances Auld.

Topics and presenters lined up will be Patricia Camel Kelly and Lailani Upham, “Military careers and their personal experiences;” Bernie Azure, “Vietnam and Return;” Linda Rhinehart, “Military Sexual Trauma;” Nike White, “Veterans Benefits;” Chuck Lewis, “Respecting/caring for our flags” and “Walking for the fallen.”

There will be a variety of cultural activities through the camp, including, plant identification with Michaelanne Stasso and Mary Jane Charlo; Tim Ryan introducing traditional survival skills; youth activities led by Leslie Caye and Bill McConnell; and an honoring by veteran and Salish elder Tony Incashola.

For more information or to reserve a camp spot, contact Darnell Auld at (406) 675-2700, ext. 1214.

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