Every Eighty Minutes A Veteran Dies by Their Own Hand

An Epidemic And National Tragedy: Veteran Suicides

by Jessica Pieklo
Care2, April 16, 2012

Last year, the Army reported 164 active duty soldiers took their own life, the most ever recorded by that service. In 2009, 52 active duty Marines killed themselves, also an all-time record. The Air Force is on pace to set their own suicide record in 2012. Veterans have it the worst, 18 a day.

In one year, more veterans will die from suicide than on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan combined since those wars began. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one suicide per 80 minutes. It’s a national tragedy and one that needs a remedy right now.

Nicholas Kristof offered this compelling look into this dark spot on the military and on the country as a whole and offers a few explanations. One reason for the high rate of veteran suicides may be the significant injuries related to post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. According to Kristof, by most estimates about one in five veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from either or both PTSD and TBI. One study showed that by their third or fourth tours in Iraq or Afghanistan more than one-quarter of soldiers suffered from these health problems.

That means that being a veteran now roughly doubles a person’s risk of suicide. And for young men ages 17 to 24, being a veteran almost quadruples that risk.

Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee rightly described the issue as an “epidemic” that is not being adequately addressed. So far the Veterans Administration has established a suicide hotline and has designated suicide-prevention staff. There are efforts to chip away at the culture within the military as well–the so called “warrior” culture that dismisses mental health concerns. It’s a start.

But those measures hardly address the underlying problems that created this epidemic to begin with: unending wars and a military that is not adequately equipped to deal with the human cost of those wars. At what point do we decide that cost is simply too much to bear?

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