U.S. veteran suicide rate skyrockets: Once every 80 Minutes

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Reliving the Hell of War

While the public focus in Afghanistan is the killing of civilians by an American soldier, little is reported on the toll this war is taking on veterans and their families.

The never-ending war in the Middle East has consequences, serious consequences. According to an October 2011 policy brief the U.S. Armed Services is losing the suicide battle on the home front. 

The report concludes that a U.S. veteran kills himself every 80 minutes while Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom service members is committing suicide every 36 hours. These statistics are staggering in light of the fact  that only one-percent of the American population serves in the military, yet the military accounts for roughly 20 percent of the national suicide rate.

Veterans and service members report substantial paperwork and even longer wait times as one reason they don’t get the proper treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Another challenge military personnel face is the stigma attached to the term PTSD. Many service members can be ridiculed by fellow soldiers, told to toughen up by superiors or don’t fill out the required paperwork to seek counsel.

The military disconnect regarding the pervasiveness of PTSD within the military is a contributing factor to suicide. If the military leadership wants to turn the suicide numbers around, mental health care providers must work in concert with commanders to enforce guidelines for PTSD/TBI diagnosis and treatment. 

“The responsibility inherent in military service, the importance of tasks assigned to relatively junior personnel and the high level of interaction among unit members establish the importance and usefulness of each unit member, particularly in an operational environment. In contrast, the experience of living in a garrison environment (for active component personnel) or returning to a civilian job (for Guardsmen, Reservists and veterans) or, worse, unemployment, can introduce feelings of uselessness. Individual accounts of military suicide both in the media and in interviews with us echo this sentiment. Over and over, these accounts show that individuals withdrew, felt disconnected from their units and their families, and perceived themselves as a burden,” Dr. Margaret Harrell and Nancy Berglass cited in their study.

While senior military leaders at the Department of Defense say they are exerting more energy than ever before to prevent the skyrocketing suicides, the dysfunctional relationship between DOD and the Veteran Affairs does little to provide adequate treatment options for veterans suffering from PTSD/TBI.

The DOD touts its “Never Let Your Buddy Fight Alone” program as a successful deterrent to suicide. And the VA’s Veterans Crisis hotline said their efforts to recognize the seriousness of suicide prompted nearly 150,000 hotline calls. The VA claims they saved 7,000 “actively suicidal veterans.” Yet, suicides remain alarmingly high.

The military must protect and care for those who voluntarily serve the country and return home with PTSD/TBI injuries. Suggestions made by this report includes; unit cohesiveness (returning soldiers should remain together as a group for at least 90 days after deployment), ensuring the military either has access or hires enough mental health providers to meet the needs of returning soldiers, and Congress needs to establish a federal pre-emption of state licensing, so providers can be treated across state lines.

Another area the military hierarchy must improve is dramatically changing the questions contained in the “Post Deployment” questionnaire.

“As service members return home from deployment, they complete a post-deployment health assessment (PDHA). As part of this assessment, they are asked questions about their physical and mental health, such as, “Did you encounter dead bodies or see people killed or wounded during this deployment?” and “During this deployment, did you ever feel that you were in great danger of being killed?” There
are also self-evaluative questions, such as, “Are you currently interested in receiving information or assistance for a stress, emotional or alcohol concern?” While we do not question the contents of the assessment, its administration has been problematic,” the report explained.

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Internet site reference: http://www.examiner.com/homeland-security-in-national/war-is-definitely-hell-a-u-s-veteran-commits-suicide-every-80-minutes


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