New York Times Review: ‘Thank You for Your Service,’ Stories of Soldiers and Suicide

“Thank You for Your Service” starts with a frantic, tear-filled 911 call reporting a suicide. It’s a gut-wrenching moment in a documentary that’s filled with them, and with scenes that make you want to scream in frustration at the bureaucracy faced by combat veterans seeking mental health services.

“We couldn’t have drawn up a more catastrophic way to fail to meet mental health needs than the blueprints that were followed in this war,” a retired Navy psychologist says about Iraq. The facts bear him out: Over the past decade, the number of suicides among veterans has soared.

The statistics here are backed by interviews with those who have returned home in agony after fighting. One man describes being alone and playing Russian roulette, while others talk about constant nightmares and crippling survivor’s guilt.

Most infuriating are stories of those who’ve sought treatment in the understaffed federal Veterans Affairs system. One employee recalls, “We knew of horrific firsthand accounts of veterans who went to V.A. one, two, three times trying to get mental health care only to go out to a V.A. parking lot and literally blow their brains out in their car.”

“Thank You for Your Service,” directed by Tom Donahue, uses its late scenes to explore nongovernment programs that have arisen to help veterans. Those examples are heartfelt and encouraging, and offer some hope after the devastating early sections.

Still, that hope is tempered by cruel reality. This important film ends with a silent onscreen note: “While you have watched this documentary, a veteran has committed suicide.”