Suicide Rate Surged
Clifton - Terra Viva (UN daily) 13
WASHINGTON (IPS) - Suicides among
United States military veterans ballooned by 26 percent from 2005 to
2007, according to new statistics released by the Veterans Affairs (VA)
department. "Of the more than 30,000 suicides in this country each year,
fully 20 percent of them are acts by veterans,'' said VA Secretary Eric
Shinseki at a VA-sponsored suicide prevention conference on Monday.
"That means on average 18 veterans commit suicide each day. Five of
those veterans are under our care at VA."
The spike in the suicide rate can most
clearly be attributed to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and
the high number of veterans returning to the U.S. with post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD). ''We have now nearly two million vets of Iraq
and Afghanistan and we still haven't seen the type of mobilisation of
resources necessary to handle an epidemic of veteran suicides,'' Aaron
Glantz, an editor at New America Media editor and author of "The War
Comes Home", told IPS.
''With [President Barack] Obama surging
in Afghanistan coupled with his unwillingness to withdraw speedily from
Iraq, it means we have more veterans who have served more and more tours
and as a result we have an escalating number of people coming home with
PTSD, depression and other mental health issues,'' Glantz continued.
Health officials have pointed to the multiple tours of duty served by
many U.S. soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as one of the
stresses placed on military personnel that differs from previous wars
fought by the U.S.
"The unfortunate truth is that the real
challenge begins when these service men and women return home and
readjust to day-to-day life," said Rep. Michael McMahon, co-founder of
the Congressional Invisible Wounds Caucus.
"The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs must
be prepared with the appropriate staff and funding to conduct
post-deployment psychological screenings with a mental health
professional for all service men and women," he said. "Evidently, the
paper questionnaires currently in use simply do not suffice. How many
more young men and women must die before we provide the necessary mental
The VA estimated that in 2005, the suicide rate per 100,000 veterans
among men ages 18-29 was 44.99, but jumped to 56.77 in 2007.
A Rand Corporation report last year found that as many as 20 percent of
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans exhibited symptoms of PTSD or depression.
''As I've often asked, mostly of myself, but also of others from time to
time, why do we know so much about suicides but so little about how to
prevent them?" said Shinseki.
The VA came under attack by veterans' groups in April 2008, when
internal emails sent by the VA's head of mental health, Dr. Ira Katz,
showed that the VA was attempting to conceal the number of suicides
committed by veterans.
Under the Obama administration, the approach to handling the increasing
number of suicides appears to have shifted, with a greater focus on
transparency - the VA is holding a three-day conference on suicide this
week. Last year, Obama announced a 25-billion-dollar increase in the
VA's budget over the next five years.
While the emphasis on greater transparency, particularly with regards to
PTSD and mental health issues, and increased funding for the VA has been
welcomed, many are still concerned that the troop surge in Afghanistan
and the ongoing U.S. role in Iraq will put ever greater strains on the
VA and its ability to deal with soldiers returning from multiple tours
''The first Gulf War was over in a matter of months. This war has gone
on for nine years in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq. There are two
million vets, most of whom have served multiple tours,'' said Glantz.
''What this means is that the military has never faced the stress it
faces now. Not even in Vietnam where we had a draft and most soldiers
only served one tour. In Iraq and Afghanistan everyone's on the
frontlines all the time. Even being in a vehicle going from one military
base to another is extremely dangerous," he said.
Shinseki cited the fact that of the 18 veterans who commit suicide each
day, five are under the care of the VA, as evidence that both the VA's
efforts to prevent suicides are falling short and that the VA is failing
to bring enough veterans under its care.
Suicides among active duty personnel have also risen, with 147 reported
suicides in the Army from January through November 2009 - an increase
from 127 in the same period of 2008.
Among non-active duty reserve soldiers, 50 suicides were reported in
2008 but the number had risen to 71 during the first 11 months of 2009.
Suicide rates in all four services of the military are significantly
higher than in the general population, with 52 Marines, 48 sailors, and
41 members of the Air force committing suicide in 2009.
The final figures for suicides in the Army during 2009 will be released
on Thursday, Jan 21st.