TEMPLE HILLS, Md. — “I cried a whole lot. I cried a whole lot,” veteran Natalie Hodge says, choking up as she remembers the dark times she experienced after leaving the Army. “I couldn't see a daylight.”
“When I got out, that was my family,” she said. “I just felt so alone. I felt so lost. I felt so trapped.”
She said she tried to take her life six times.
“Nobody hears you,” she told WUSA9. “You try to share it with somebody, and nobody hears you and after a while there's nobody else you share it with.”
Tragically, Hodge is not alone in her pain. Data we uncovered from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the number of female vets committing suicide is the highest it's been in more than a decade. In 2017, which is the most recent information available, 296 female veterans took their lives. That's one suicide every 30 hours.
For male veterans, the numbers are just as striking. According to the data, in 2017, one male veteran committed suicide every hour-and-a-half. Of course, for perspective, there simply aren't as many women vets.
“I'm not surprised,” Hodge responded to the numbers. “There's still a lot of pain. There's still a lot of female veterans that I know personally, I can tell you ten off the top of my head, that are still yet suffering.”
We asked Hodge why she thinks the numbers are rising.
“It still is a male-dominated society in a lot of ways, and as a result, where do we turn?” she said. “Who do we turn to? We self-implode. It doesn’t matter about the kids. It doesn’t matter about the family. It doesn’t matter about friends. I don’t want to hurt no more.”
Hodge said what made the difference for her, what ultimately saved her life, is finally going to the VA.
“I went to group therapy, which was very therapeutic,” she said. “I actually thought that nobody else was suffering but me. To find out that there were other female veterans and male veterans alike that had suffered what I had suffered through, I guess it made the load less heavy.”
Hodge thinks the VA should be more proactive in reaching out to veterans.
“I don't think you'll hear me or you'll hear any of us arguing with that because there's always more that we want to do,” said Dr. Matt Miller, the VA's Executive Director for Suicide Prevention.
There’s more they want to do to reach these veterans because, as we dig deeper into the statistics, we've learned the suicide numbers have not increased for female vets who have sought care in the VA system.
“We're working with representatives and leaders and members of the community within the states to take a look at ways that we can expand suicide prevention resources broadly,” Miller said.
The VA now has specific military sexual trauma care and a universal screening program.
“We don’t need any evidence that this happened,” said Dr. Susan McCutcheon, national mental health director for family services, women’s mental health and military sexual trauma. “The clinicians are not going to say, ‘Did you drink? What were you wearing? How did this happen? Who was the perpetrator?' All you need to do is say yes, and we will automatically offer you free MST care.”
Hodge hopes by sharing her story, her fellow female vets will hear a message it took her multiple suicide attempts to really understand.
“I sat on the sideline for too long waiting for somebody to rescue me,” she said. “I really was and the resources were there, all I had to do was kind of reach out a little bit.”
Here's the most important number we can give you in this story -- If you need help, if you just want to talk to someone, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255
Here are also some resources Hodge says helped her through difficult times:
- Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) - www.asapasap.org
- Operation Tohidu-Melwood - https://www.melwood.org/veterans-services/old/program-overview
- Spirit Of Faith Christian Center (SOFCC) - https://spiritoffaith.org/
- Together Program for Financial Literacy - firstname.lastname@example.org |