Evangelist Franklin Graham has expressed heartbreak over recent statistics showing that 20 U.S. veterans a day die by suicide, and urged Americans to extend gratitude to those who have fought for our freedom.
On Thursday, Graham, the president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse, shared the link to a USA Today article revealing statistics by the Department of Veterans Affairs showing that 20 veterans a day killed themselves in 2014.
In a Facebook post shared on Thursday, the 64-year-old evangelist contended that such numbers are "something that should break your heart."
"Just released numbers say that 20 veterans a day commit suicide. In 2014, more than 7,000 veterans died at their own hands - that's more than the entire 15-year war on terror. This is incredibly tragic," he wrote.
The Department of Veterans Affairs found that daily suicides had decreased slightly from 2010, as there was an average of 22 a day. The new analysis consists of 55 million veterans records nationwide dating back to 1979 up until 2014.
The VA found the worst suicide pattern among male veterans, ages 18-29. Their suicide rate was 86 per 100,000 people, nearly four times the rate among active-duty service members last year.
Veterans also made up 18 percent of all suicides in the U.S. in 2014, despite only making up 8.5 percent of the population. The overall U.S. suicide rate is 13 per 100,000 people, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says.
David Shulkin, VA undersecretary for health, said that despite the slight decline, the suicide rate is "still far too high."
"One Veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better-informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy," said Shulkin in a press release on Thursday. "We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of Veteran suicides to zero."
In continuing his Facebook post, Graham noted that Samaritan's Purse reaches out to wounded veterans and their spouses by bringing 10 couples each week of the summer to its Operation Heal Our Patriots retreats in Alaska.
"They enjoy the beauty of God's creation, get to go fishing and bear watching, and most importantly receive Christian-based marriage counseling. Every week we see marriages that were on the rocks get rescued and turned around. Couples renew their wedding vows. We have couples come who don't know God or His salvation, and many find peace through a born-again relationship with His Son Jesus Christ," Graham explained.
"Day after day, week after week, we are going to do what we can to help these veterans and their spouses. And when they return home from Alaska, we don't stop - we have an incredible aftercare team that stays in contact with them and is available 24/7," he added.
Graham encouraged Christians to pray for veterans who are in trouble and extend gratitude toward them, as many of them would benefit just by hearing "God bless you" and "thank you" for their service.