CITY HALL — The rising number of suicides by military veterans prompted a "search for answers" on how to "stem this tide" in a City Council committee Wednesday.
According to Ald. James Balcer (11th), a Vietnam veteran who sponsored a resolution to hold the hearing, 22 percent of U.S. suicides involve veterans, and current statistics show that 22 American veterans commit suicide every day.
"We're here today to try to figure out how to stem this tide, this tide of suicide," said Jim Frazier, an Army official who counsels surviving family members after a veteran's death.
Frazier said that in last four years in what he called "the hardest job" he's ever had, he counseled 103 families in northern Illinois, with 33 following a suicide. Of 50 families he's worked with in Cook County, 19 were dealing with a veteran's suicide.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) shared that he believed his father, a World War II veteran, was an early sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder, before it was typically diagnosed, when he committed suicide in 1968. "To say this was traumatic is putting it very mildly," Cappleman said, adding that he was "very appreciative of this resolution ... so it has my full support."
Cappleman teared up when Frazier spoke of families asking, "Why?"
"We're probably not gonna get that answer in this lifetime," Frazier said. Family members frequently blame themselves for a suicide afterward, he said.
That wouldn't stop aldermen from pursuing a "search for answers," said Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), chairman of the Human Relations Committee, which held Wednesday's hearing.
Reboyras said the problem spans generations, with 69 percent of all U.S. veteran suicides involving someone age 50 or older, while 349 suicides involved active-duty personnel in 2012.
Balcer urged education, for veterans and families, "to help prevent suicide," and emphasized the Veterans Affairs crisis hotline at 800-273-8255.
Frazier echoed that, urging "education, education and more education," but also sought "more stringent reintegration programs" for veterans leaving the armed forces.
"It is not gonna get better if we don't take a closer look and have more educational programs out there," Frazier said.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who described himself as a Navy veteran during more peaceful times, said, "We're constantly at war, and our veterans are paying the price."
Cardenas said Congress spends too much on weapons and "not enough on the weapon that matters most, and that's the human person." Cardenas said the government needs to spend more on all forms of tending to veterans, from reintegration to mental-health care, adding, "That's our duty."