Jason Arment

So You’ve Decided to Kill Yourself in the VA Parking Lot

Jason Arment examines suicide rates among veterans, the remarkable number of suicides in VA parking lots, and pleads with veterans to reconsider.

 

Maybe you went online and ran a search along the lines of “veteran shoots himself in the VA parking lot,” like I just did. Maybe, like me, you’d just read about the man who lit himself on fire in front of a VA in New Jersey and you thought, That is the hardest thing ever.

It’s not very original, though. Not that I’m encouraging you to kill yourself, although I have written an essay entitled “In Defense of Suicide” that you should probably read, but some other veteran just did it a few days before the immolation. Not only that, but if you actually perused the results for veterans discharging firearms into their heads in parking lots, you saw that a bunch of prior service are doing it.

But many people have considered killing themselves and found firearms to be boring. It’s also pretty easy to mess up. And then not only are you still alive, but you’re seriously injured and probably on the way to being institutionalized. Which might not be such a bad thing, considering you’re on your way to kill yourself in the VA parking lot.

Choosing the VA parking lot is a bold statement, and may be the right choice for some—I am not so arrogant to judge such decisions—but I would challenge you to really evaluate what is happening. The VA has pissed you off. That’s not really a new thing. The VA might have even really fucked you over. (Also, not a new thing, but why beleaguer the point?) You could get ahold of a lawyer and try to figure it out; some lawyers will even work for veterans with no upfront costs if they know there is money on the back end—true patriots. Filing complaints works sometimes, but many people forgo this for yelling and screaming.

This is always iffy. You’re at the VA surrounded by people that used to be in the military. Many of these people have a very unique skill set that makes them the antithesis of doctors. They might not be the best people to freak out on. Also, it’s good to remember that in many places the VA relies on volunteer work, so the person you turn rabid on could be there because they actual care about you.

In some cases the people who piss you off at the VA are the ones in charge, or it may seem that way—I think that’s what’s going on in many of the cases of veterans killing themselves on VA grounds. Even then, wouldn’t it be better to go to the press? Wouldn’t that do more damage? If you kill yourself in the parking lot, the VA might very well not be able to release your information—meaning that your story could die with you. And let’s be realistic, it will. Barring you knowing a senator (I would have said being a senator’s son, but we’re being realistic; rich people don’t kill themselves in the VA parking lot) or a celebrity, no one is going to even know it happened.

The public won’t notice, not really, no matter how many times they see it on the news. Even if it became a national trend, they wouldn’t get it. Until every veteran suicide is in line at Starbucks (22 a day) and every attempt (75 a day) plays out in public spaces that inconvenience and annoy everyone, it will be ignored. Just like the suicides in VA parking lots happening now are being ignored. How the world turns isn’t going to change for us. One time, maybe, we believed we could change it.

I would ask that you believe again. Because, knowing what has happened up to now hasn’t sparked tangible VA reform, you must realize that killing yourself in the VA parking lot isn’t the answer. What is the answer? Well, what is the question? If you want to know how to change the VA, it’s probably along the same lines as changing any other institution. And in order to change an institution it would be best to have an understanding—perhaps the essay “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)” by Althusser. There are a lot of different takes on the essay, and mine is that bureaucracies promote, defend, and reproduce themselves in order to survive. There are those in our society who openly claim corporations are people, so I don’t think it’s salacious that I bring up an essay that deals with organizations of actual people as if they are indeed people.

There are others who we could observe behaving similarly. People who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, although their departure isn’t motivated by the bridge itself—the bridge being just a place to jump. Monks in Tibet have used immolation as a means of political protest, so maybe they are most similar. Though there is something distinctly American about blowing your brains out, in your car, in the VA parking lot—a lonely last salute in the place that failed you most, amidst a people who could only pretend to understand sacrifice.

I would beg that you rethink your decision. We might have been told to save the last bullet for ourselves when we went to country, but we aren’t in country anymore. We’re back home. There are others like us.

They need you, whether you know it or not.

 

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Jason Arment

Jason Arment served in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Machine Gunner in the USMC. He's earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. His work has appeared in Narrative Magazine, Lunch Ticket, Chautauqua, Hippocampus, The Burrow Press Review, Dirty Chai, and War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities; anthologized in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors Volume 2 & 4; and is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, The Florida Review, and Phoebe. Jason lives in Denver.

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