FORMER SERVICE MEMBERS REPRESENT 20 PERCENT OF SUICIDES IN THE UNITED STATES

For Immediate Release:

Steve Sanson: President of Veterans In Politics International 702 283 8088

Melody Howard: Nevada Chapter President of Veterans In Politics 702 400 6021

 

 

FORMER SERVICE MEMBERS REPRESENT 20 PERCENT

OF SUICIDES IN THE UNITED STATES

 

As of December 21, 2011, 6,318 brave Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) on October 7, 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began with the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003.  Of the total deaths, 1,328 were due to non-hostile actions, such as accident, suicide, or illness.

 

Suicide and Veterans

 

“[A]although only 1 percent of Americans have served during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former service members represent 20 percent of suicides in the United States.”

 

In its report “Losing the Battle: The Challenge of Military Suicide” The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) stated that “from 2005 to 2010, service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours.”  The data for veterans cannot be determined with any accuracy because only 16 states have reported the suicides for veterans; however, “the VA estimates that a veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.”     

 

In a news release, the Army reports that:

 

The Army has identified 260 potential soldier suicides for CY 2011.  Of that total, 154 were active duty suicides:  100 have been confirmed as suicide and 54 remain under investigation; 106 were Reserve Component not on active duty suicides (73 Army National Guard and 33 Army Reserve):  84 have been confirmed as suicide and 22 remain under investigation.  Compared to previous years, the Army had 305 in CY 2010 (159 active-duties and 146 not-on-active-duty) and 242 in CY 2009 (162 active-duty and 80 not-on-active-duty).

 

The true number of veterans who die by suicide is unknown.  The VA estimates that 18 veterans kill themselves every day but this number is extrapolated from extremely limited data.   Specifically, states provide death data to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for inclusion in the National Death Index, but only 16 of U.S. states indicate veteran status in their data.  The number of veteran suicides from the remaining 34 states is extrapolated to estimate the overall number of veteran suicides.  Further, the current numbers are extrapolated from three year-old data. 

 

Add to this the reality that military culture is built on breaking down some of our most basic psychological instincts through humiliation, deprivation, and submission, and it becomes less and less logical to separate the military personnel who have seen combat from those who haven’t. Everyone who signs his or her name on the dotted line of a military contract is destined for psychological trauma of one kind or another, especially if they’re female.

 

Even those who do meet the military’s definition of PTSD have a long road ahead. According to the most recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, there are 7.8 million veterans in the VA health care system and only 342,624 of them have received PTSD compensation.  

 

Further, it is widely believed that military members who seek treatment for PTSD are considered weak by many of their leaders and fellow members.  The report recommends the following: 

 

Military leaders must eliminate the stigma associated with mental health care, hold unit leaders accountable for instances in which individuals are ridiculed for seeking treatment, and ensure that military funerals or memorials are provided to all otherwise eligible service members who die by suicide.

 

Add to this, the report there is a national shortage of mental health care and behavioral health care professionals, a factor linked to higher rates of suicide. They recommend that “Congress should permanently establish expedited or direct hire authority allowing military hospitals to hire behavioral health care providers.”

 

Female Veterans, PTSD, and Suicide

 

At least 250,000 American women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  While women are generally considered non-combat support staff, they still participate in situations that can cause PTSD.  For example, US POW’s Shoshanna Johnson and Jessica Lynch were taken prisoner after the convoy they were traveling in was ambushed.  Women participate in convoys, they work in morgues, they get injured, and they get killed in action.  111 US Military women, 13 US Civilian women have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

 

Sexual assaults on women also result in PTSD, particularly since many go unreported.  The Pentagon admits “that only 10 to 20 percent of cases are probably being reported.”

 

In a study conducted by Portland State University and Oregon Health and Science University of 5,948 female suicides between 2004 and 2007, they determined that “young women veterans have nearly triple the suicide rate of young women who never served in the military.” 

 

Further, PTSD, hypertension and depression were the top three diagnostic categories for female veterans treated by the VA in 2008 and 2009 and these issues will likely only grow. 

 

Fighting the Despair

 

In Ameriforce Military News, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the Defense Department’s top enlisted leader, stated that military leaders in all the services are committed to reducing suicides.

 

With regards to education, engagement, intervention — when a service member is feeling down or even possibly falling down, [leaders] need to engage, and they are.  When a service member or family member is struggling, they need to intervene. And they are. Suicide is a total-force issue, and we’re going to continue to work hard in order to make it a total-force solution.

 

Leaders in the armed services and the VA deserve recognition for their actions to reduce the rate of suicide among service members and veterans, but face persistent obstacles.  The DOD suicide prevention programs, with slogans such as “Never Leave a Marine Behind” and “Never Let Your Buddy Fight Alone,” resonate with service members by being service specific and embedded in their service cultures.

The services ensure that the necessary tools, such as hotlines, are readily available. The VA’s Veterans Crisis Line is especially important in this regard.  In its first three years, the hotline received more than 144,000 calls involving veterans and saved more than 7,000 actively suicidal veterans. 

 

Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the VA’s Suicide Hot Line Begins Operations: VA’s Suicide Hot Line: The toll-free hot line number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  or you can chat live in the Veterans live online Chat VA’s hot line is staffed by mental health professionals and takes toll-free calls from across the country working closely with local VA mental-health providers to help callers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org  Both are 24/7 confidential support.

 

What Can You Do To Recognize and/or Help

 

Once we recognize the signs and symptoms that may indicate the person is at risk we must respond appropriately:

 

  • Don’t be alarmed
  • Confront the issue directly; ask if they are thinking about suicide. Ask if they have a plan, means and intent to carry out suicide. If they are suicidal and they will not go to the hospital call 911.  DO NOT take it lightly.
  • Don’t leave the person alone, show concern, get them to open up and talk, supports in place are essential.
  • Be the one to throw the lifeline but the goal is to get the person to the safety of the harbor which is professional help.
  • Send someone for help, call 911 or go with the person to seek help from professional Counselors.

 

Resources:

 

U.S. Casualty Status

Losing the Battle:  The Challenge of Military Suicide

Army Releases November Suicide Data

Suicide Prevention Resource Links

Women who Died in Operation Iraqi Freedom

Battaglia: Reducing Suicides a Top Priority

Veterans Chat

 

To read more about Female Veterans and PTSD, please visit:

How We’re Failing Our Female Veterans

The Combat Within: Female Veterans and PTSD Benefits

Are female veteran suicides a hidden epidemic?

 

Go to: www.veteransinpolitics.com

 

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