US military service members (SM) and Veterans choose to take their own lives far, far too often. There are myriad reasons this happens – each one an individual tragedy with a very human story behind it. They leave behind grieving family, friends, and Brothers & Sisters in Arms. Ideally, no SM or Veteran would ever take their own life – in a perfect world. But at least some of these were preventable tragedies.
Second Class Citizen received three years’ worth of data on SM back in March – the actual reports on each individual suicide, in heart-breaking detail. We processed that data over the course of several weeks and discovered one of the primary reasons; SM and transitioning Veterans don’t stand a chance in family court. They deploy, they serve their country, and they come back to broken homes. Spouses who take their children, clean out their bank accounts, and make off with whole households.
These SM are typically lower or mid-rank enlisted men, aged 22-26 years old. They are just getting started in their careers, and they do not make enough to counter a devastating blow like this. Pay for an E5/Sergeant (the average affected rank) is just $30,661.20 per year.
These young SM find themselves in family court, begging just to be part of their children’s lives. They don’t stand a chance – particularly if the belligerent spouse has an attorney, either pro bono or paid. The SM has just completed, or is still among, the ranks in the military where their entire life hinges on following orders. They have not yet learned to lead, take charge, or act autonomously. Often in the process of a custody dispute, these SM find themselves discharged from, or make the decision to leave, the military. This leaves them with even less resources.
The maze of the family courts coupled with the inherent bias against military or Veterans in that environment is often overwhelming. Divorce attorneys for belligerent spouses more often than not attempt to paint the SM or Veteran as “unstable, dangerous, unfit”, citing “profession of arms” or exploiting PTSD in the case of wounded SM & Veterans. Second Class Citizen founder T. Popp – Operator One – is a highly decorated Green Beret & member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment. He was called an “assassin” by his wife’s attorney. I was called a “murderer and a professional spy” in Pierce County, WA family court. There are literally dozens of stories like this.
The result is nearly always the same. The SM or Veteran ends up destitute and in some cases living in his vehicle or homeless, with no recourse, no legal support of any kind, no way to fight back. In at least one third of these cases, the SM or Veteran chooses to take his own life out of sheer desperation and loss of hope.
Second Class Citizen is working to change this.