Tom Steffens: Legalizing assisted suicide risks harm to veterans

Rear Adm. Tom Steffens, U.S. Navy (retired)

When I was on active duty, one of the key tenets of our Navy SEAL Creed was, “Leave no one behind.”

I see this same principle alive across our commonwealth as civil society and our public servants work tirelessly to support our 700,000 veterans every day. Despite that extraordinary effort, we all know that the men and women who valiantly served our country are at a higher risk for suicide.

However, during this recently concluded legislative session, there were discussions again about legalizing assisted suicide in our commonwealth. If somehow we Virginians allowed that to become a public policy, many veterans would be put at great risk, again. That can’t stand.

Our national suicide rate for non-veterans is 16.2 for every 100,000 people; our veteran suicide rate is 30 per 100,000. And female veterans are more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their civilian counterparts. Veterans and their families already fight to overcome many challenges including PTSD, TBI, debilitating wounds and injuries and the ever-present bureaucracy. Never should they have to contend with the slippery slope of a statewide, government-sanctioned assisted-suicide program. Yet such a law would lead us in that direction.

The statistics on veteran suicide in Oregon, where this has been the law for over 20 years, give us clear indication that an increase in our veteran mortality rates is exactly what Virginia lawmakers would be signing us up for. Since establishing that public policy in Oregon, their veteran suicide rate has —alarmingly — remained well above the national average. In 2014, 2015 and 2016 the veteran suicide rates in Oregon were 39.8, 37.2 and 39.4 respectively. The corresponding national rates during those same years was 29.7, 29.7 and 30.1. Legalized assisted suicide will surely lead to higher veteran suicide rates in Virginia as well…

Read more at the Virginia Pilot…

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