Disturbing Epidemic of Suicide Among Post-9/11 Veterans

New Survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Shines Spotlight on National Crisis.

A tragic and shockingly large number of America’s Post-9/11 Veterans are killing themselves. A new report form Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest advocacy organization for men and women who served in the ongoing wars, shows suicide among this group of veterans is hitting epidemic proportions.

Here is the important news for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Congress: Nearly one-third of the 4,000 Veterans who responded to the IAVA survey in February said that they had considered taking their own life at some point.

A slightly larger percentage of Veterans said that they knew someone who had committed suicide. A staggering 45% of those surveyed said that they know an Iraq or Afghanistan Veteran who has attempted suicide and an additional two-thirds said that they have Veterans friends who need mental health counseling.

According to USA Today, VA uncovered evidence this disturbing trend is “following many young veterans after they leave the service,” adding to an estimated 22 suicides per day among veterans of all ages. That distressing count is up from 18 suicides per day in 2005.

Two problems exacerbating the crisis include VA’s chronic disability benefits delays and the more than 30 percent of recent veterans diagnosed by VA with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as reported by The Daily Beast last fall.

Here are other important statistics about recent war veterans: according to the Department of Defense 2.5 million individual service members deployed at least once since 9/11. Of those, 900,000 remain in the military and are not yet eligible for VA care or benefits. Of the 1.6 million recent war veterans who are now eligible for VA care there are:

  • 899,000 patients treated by VA for at least one medical condition (56% of eligible veterans);
  • 486,000 patients treated for at least one mental health condition (54% of patients treated by VA); and
  • 286,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD (31% of all treated patients).

As NBC News notes, the Army reported July 18 that 134 soldiers – including active duty members, reserves, and those in the National Guard – had committed “potential” suicide throughout the end of May (some of those deaths remain under investigation and await official designation).

There is, however, a small bit of good news: 93% of veterans surveyed said that they were aware of the VA’s Veteran Crisis Line – 800-273-8255. Unfortunately 80% of those surveyed said they did not think the Pentagon or VA were doing a good job of providing adequate mental health support for veterans.

The survey also found that veterans are still reluctant to seek mental health care due to a fear that they will be perceived as weak. “The fact that so many of our members know someone that has tried to commit suicide or that had mental health issues really underscores the seriousness of this problem,” Tom Tarantino, Chief Policy Officer for IAVA told USA Today.

Awareness: Bergmann & Moore distributes thousands of VA's suicide prevention wrist bands. Photo: Paul Sullivan

Awareness: Bergmann & Moore distributes thousands of VA’s suicide prevention wrist bands.
Photo: Paul Sullivan

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