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Comprehensive Study Shows Need for Better Veterans Suicide Prevention
Known as the Gulf War Illness, acute and chronic symptoms plague many American military veterans. The multi-symptom illness poses serious consequences to the health of combat veterans who survived the Persian Gulf War as well as veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan War. And, while the Gulf War Illness is linked to functional impairment, posttraumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome, it’s also a related cause of many veterans’ suicides throughout the years.
In a new report put out by the Department of Veteran Affairs, the Suicide Data Report revealed during the project's period that out of the 147,000 reported suicides in the U.S. 27,000 were identified as serving in the U.S. military, which is 22.2 percent of the total suicide rate. Therefore, this prevalence determined that 22 veterans per day committed suicide in 2010 collected from death certificate status, which has increased from the reported 18 to 20 veteran suicides per day between 1999 and 2008.
The report, which contains data compiled from the State Mortality Project, Suicide Behavior Reports and the Veterans Crisis Line between 2009 and 2012, entered suicide information from the population of 21 states in which veteran status was determined by a single question directed at families of the deceased asking the person’s military service history, which is added to the state death certificate.
While there are many reasons that veterans take their own lives, posttraumatic stress disorder linked to the Gulf War Illness reigns a primary factor, according to a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) report titled Surveillance of Health Outcomes of Gulf War Veterans. Mortality studies showed that the most frequently reported disease classifications among these veterans committing suicide included mental disorders.
Findings, through healthcare utilization studies, also showed that there was a small, but significant "excesses in hospitalization due to mental disorders" among other physical conditions for which veterans were treated.
The VA believes the impact the war has on veterans is horrific and they must do a better job assisting veterans and their families after war.
The Suicide Data Report, which is the most comprehensive study to date on this topic, is an effort for the VA to develop a data system to help their programs along with other suicide prevention programs to understand the correlation between veterans and suicides in the U.S. The data is also used to direct attention to veterans that are at “high risk for suicide,” and therefore, create better programs and strengthen its current suicide prevention.
According to the Suicide Data Report, “the integration of information collected through the National Death Index (NDI), state mortality records, Suicide Behavior Reports, Veterans Crisis Line, and the VA’s universal electronic medical records contribute to an increased understanding of suicide and risk management by identifying gaps in existing knowledge, opportunities for intervention and the impact of VA-sponsored suicide prevention programs.”
While it was reported that suicide committed by veterans declined through the years, the overall suicide rate of the total population has increased since 1999 nearly 11%. The Suicide Data Report went on to show that suicide among the veterans’ population and overall total population are more likely to be committed by males. And out of the veteran population, the highest percentage of suicides was between the ages of 50-59 determined from collected data on state death certificates. But it should also be noted that the suicide rate among young veterans, 18 years or older, is higher than their counterparts, nonveterans, according to the report.
A total of 34 states, as of November, have contributed data to the project and data use agreements were approved by eight additional states who will participate in future reporting for the VA.
The VA said it understands the role it must play in keeping veterans of all eras safe and will continue to provide assistance and prevention in regards to all related mental health concerns.
“We will diligently continue to pursue successful and effective interventions for those veterans at risk for suicide and those suffering from mental health related concerns through research and practice using all available information and data. We will continue to add to this information base as data continues to become available and provide updates to this on-going report.”