‘STAGGERING’: Suicide Rate Among Female Veterans Found Near Six Times Higher Than Non-Veterans

‘STAGGERING’: Suicide Rate Among Female Veterans Found Near Six Times Higher Than Non-Veterans

by Alan Zarembo
The Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2015

LOS ANGELES — New government research shows that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.

Their suicide rate is so high that it approaches that of male veterans, a finding that surprised researchers because men generally are far more likely than women to commit suicide.

“It’s staggering,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, an epidemiologist and suicide expert at Northeastern University who was not involved in the research. “We have to come to grips with why the rates are so obscenely high.”

Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department has focused on men, who account for more than 90% of the nation’s 22 million former troops. Little has been known about female veteran suicide.

The rates are highest among young veterans, the VA found in new research compiling 11 years of data. For women ages 18 to 29, veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans.

In every other age group, including women who served as far back as the 1950s, the veteran rates are between four and eight times higher, indicating that the causes extend far beyond the psychological effects of the recent wars.

The data include all 173,969 adult suicides — men and women, veterans and nonveterans — in 23 states between 2000 and 2010.

It is not clear what is driving the rates. VA researchers and experts who reviewed the data for The Times said there were myriad possibilities, including whether the military had disproportionately drawn women at higher suicide risk and whether sexual assault and other traumatic experiences while serving played a role.

Whatever the causes, the consistency across age groups suggests a long-standing pattern.

“We’ve been missing something that now we can see,” said Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and military suicide researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health who was not part of the work.

The 2011 death of 24-year-old Katie Lynn Cesena is one of a dozen cases The Times identified in Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Cesena’s death highlights two likely factors in the rates.

First, she had reported being raped by a fellow service member. The Pentagon has estimated that 10% of women in the military have been raped while serving and another 13% subject to unwanted sexual contact, a deep-rooted problem that has gained attention in recent years as more victims come forward.

The distress forced Cesena out of the Navy, said her mother, Laurie Reaves.

Read the rest of this story at the Los Angeles Times website.


STEVE ROBINSON 1962-2014: American Vets Lose Their Biggest Battle Buddy

Steve Robinson 1962-2014

Steve Robinson 1962-2014

by The Military Suicide Report
June 20, 2014

Few people will go to their grave with thousands of saved lives credited to their name.

Steve Robinson just did.

The gentle big man, and former Army Ranger died June 12 of unspecified causes. He was just 51.

What kind of man was he?

He was the ultimate battle buddy, especially to young emotionally-wounded service members during their darkest moments … mostly guys who decided they’d had enough, gripping a loaded gun or bottle of pills in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, listening to Steve’s soothing sermons about survival and healing.

Steve was big, at least 275 lbs, probably more. He kept his hair cut at military standards, even after retirement. He had eyes that were as serious as they were kind. He always had time to help, and help he did, anytime, day or night. When it came to helping “his people,” Steve knew no clock.

He became well-known as the “go to guy” when a young soldier, sailor, airman or Marine was suffering severe psychiatric breakdown — usually just after getting home from multiple combat tours in either Iraq or Afghanistan — totally out of gas and getting a professional beat down from military commanders instead of badly needed help.

Steve knew military regs, inside and out.

He knew exactly how commanders operated — the devious tactics they used on green 19- and 20-year-olds just out of high school — and how they routinely flushed their mentally and physically wounded out of the military for new healthy young bodies, ready to deploy. Disposable humans.

Steve helped thousands of service members navigate the thick and complicated military medical and legal manuals, to save them from going to the brig during seasons when their PTSD was running wild. So many of them had military commands breathing down their necks, trying to criminalize their medical problems by punishing any and every minor infraction of military protocol to prove a “pattern of misconduct,” or by pressuring them into accepting a bogus “personality disorder” discharge.

Taking a PD discharge would get you out of the Army fast and easy, but it meant you would have a helluva time getting VA care for PTSD afterward. In excess of 100,000 desperate service members have accepted the PD discharge since 9/11, instead of waiting out the long adversarial process of navigating “the system” to get a proper diagnosis for PTSD before discharge. Steve thought this was a huge injustice for the young men and women accepting PD discharges.

You see, Steve knew exactly what PTSD was from a young age. His dad, served as a hard-ass combat Marine in Vietnam. He brought a severe case home from the war. He showed his kids what PTSD was all about.

But Steve, after retiring from 20 years with the Rangers was determined “not to be that way” with his own family. He became something that could best be described as a combination of Zen monk, platoon sergeant, big brother and military lawyer.

He taught countless troubled young men and women in uniform how to safely get off dangerous psychotropic drug cocktails that their military docs prescribed by the bag full, and instead help manage their raging minds and panic attacks by deeper breathing, calm music, sitting next to a pond, or burning some incense … hippie stuff. Steve definitely had some hippie in him.

Steve also could hold his own in the halls and cocktail lounges of Washington D.C., unafraid to pound on doors or engage congressional staffers after hours over drinks. Often, he was an expert witness during House or Senate committee hearings, where he would call “BS” on the underhanded tactics used by DoD and VA against “his people” suffering PTSD and countless other injuries, including TBI, Gulf War Illness, and injuries from the neurotoxic Malaria drug Lariam.

He had the lingo and always brought the hard statistical evidence. When Steve spoke to congress, he really had his shit together. His exhaustive work in the capital and across America helped an entire generation of veterans from being thrown under the bus, during a time when it was SOP to do so at military commands worldwide. When Steve spoke, the big guys in congress usually listened, unlike at the Pentagon.

When on occasion nobody would listen, Steve wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the phone and share his concerns and frustrations with a hungry journalist. That happened in 2006 when nobody would listen to Steve about the laundry list of serious problems facing severely wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

With all the evidence of Walter Reed’s poor living conditions, over-medicating, suicides, and daily humiliation of troops in recovery there, Steve went to the Washington Post and gave them the scoop. The reports quickly awakened congress and the DoD brass. The resulting attention on Walter Reed served notice to military leaders that they could not continue to get away with handling wounded troops like recycling. The Post’s reporting on the Walter Reed scandal earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.

Steve departs at a critical time, when the VA has been caught in a historic criminal conspiracy to deny care and benefits to millions of sick and wounded. Now it is known exactly how VA intentionally harms veterans. VA has been doing it through maltreatment, outright denial of benefits, or through actual negligent homicide and intentional over-medicating unsuspecting veterans with fatal prescription drug cocktails; drugs that are proven to induce suicidal behavior.

Perhaps the good soul Steve was, just could not endure seeing “his people” treated by VA and DoD in such a diabolical manner. Perhaps, his heart just stopped, because it was broken over it all. Perhaps he had loaded his vet advocacy ruck sack with one case too many, and he could not march on without more concern and help from American leaders, its citizens, and other advocates.

There is no doubt at TMSR that Ranger Robinson will be fast-tracked through heaven’s gate, and have a leadership billet waiting for him in the sky.

WAY OFF THE MARK: Tennessee Newspaper Appears to Have Joined DoD in Military Suicide Propoganda

WAY OFF THE MARK: Tennessee Newspaper Appears to Have Joined DoD in Military Suicide Propoganda

No Easy Answers for Military Suicide
Deployments, combat, PTSD don’t explain majority of cases

by The Tennessean
July 14,2013

BLOGBACK: First point to be made here is that DoD and VA both are intentionally clumsy when it comes to tracking all matters related to the suicides and deaths associated with “high-risk” behavior, ie motorcycle racing, binge-drinking on prescribed medications (widely labled as accidents and excluded from suicide data). The claim is, “We just don’t know and we cannot conclude these deaths as suicides; and therefore these [under-reported] deaths [many hundreds per year] do not count against the rising suicide numbers.”

Now, to the point of TMSR headline at the top …

This publication likely has intentionally joined so many others by regurgitating in print a very cleverly-crafted DoD talking point –an absolutely ridiculous assertion — that has been successfully pushed forward through through a complicit, cooperative and cordial corporate media corps.

The mistake simply is this:

When one seeks to explain or mention military suicide rates against those civilian suicides in the same demographic, there continues to be a huge mistake in the count. It is an absolute falacy, a lie … but based in “truthiness,” as the wondeful Mr. Steven Colbert has many times said. To make the military-civilian demographic comparison hold up under serious analysis, one must take the civilian demographic and purge this group of all those completed suicides who would not have ever qualified for military service in the first place.

Let me say that again, maybe you did not hear me clearly …

To make the military-civilian demographic comparison hold up under serious analysis, one must take the civilian demographic and purge this group of all those completed suicides who would not have ever qualified for military service in the first place.

The current message on recruiting from DoD is that about two thirds of age-qualified prospective military applicants are not qualified for military service on medical, moral or mental grounds.

So for this newspaper — or any news organization for that fact — to look past this glaring “factoid” is a journalistic sin at best. Shameful and disgraceful in this writer’s best judgement. Try again Tennessean, and tell your friends.

CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — She was a well-liked, exemplary Fort Campbell soldier, a loving mother and wife on a clean, upward career trajectory in the Army that she loved. And she was the last person anyone thought was at risk for suicide.

Right up until the moment she plunged a knife into her own neck.

No one saw it coming – not family, friends, fellow soldiers, health professionals or police, or the Fort Campbell Army officer detailed to conduct the 15-6 Line of Duty investigation into her death.

Hers is one of 17 reports on such investigations recently obtained by Leaf-Chronicle news partner WSMV-Channel 4, Nashville, through Freedom of Information Act requests. The reports shed some much-needed light on a problem of great concern to the communities around Fort Campbell, especially since many military suicides, such as the case cited above, take place outside the post gates.

And the reports illustrate the difficulty of addressing the military suicide problem:

• Some victims were driven perfectionists and model soldiers. Some were anything but. Drugs and alcohol show up in some files and not at all in others. The same goes for financial problems.

• Some had not a hint of relationship issues, or criminal conduct or even minor misconduct, while others rode the razor’s edge of trouble all the way down the chute to oblivion.

• Some gave signs or cried out for help, but many did not, and in too many cases, victims were so good at hiding their problems and their pain that their deaths took those closest to them completely by surprise.

Perhaps surprisingly, none of the soldiers who committed suicide had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

About the reports
Fifteen of the 17 reports available involved units of the 101st Airborne, which covers most of the nearly 30,000 soldiers at the post. Two cases occurred within the much-smaller 5th Special Forces Group. The available reports do not include soldiers who committed suicide while deployed.

Two cases involved women soldiers. The rest were men. That breakdown is close to the actual gender composition of the Army (15.7 percent women).

The reports – spanning a period from Jan. 10, 2011, to Oct. 24, 2012 – are from AR 15-6 investigations, written by Army officers assigned to determine whether a death, disease or injury occurred “in the line of duty” and not as a result of misconduct. That line-of-duty determination has a direct bearing on whether next of kin are eligible for death benefits.

An incomplete answerOne explanation for military suicides has been cited so often that it’s nearly carved in stone: The military is damaged by a dozen years of war, resulting in an epidemic of traumatic brain injuries and PTSD, causing increasing numbers of service members to commit suicide.

The explanation is partly true.

PTSD and TBI are real and massive problems in their own right, with consequences that behavioral health professionals say will be felt by society for a generation after the wars are done.

But according to military-wide figures, slightly more than half (53 percent) of all service members who commit suicide had never deployed.

Of those who had, many were never in combat zones. And of those in combat zones, many didn’t engage in direct combat with the enemy.

According to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report for 2011, 85 percent of military suicides never experienced direct combat.

Army guidelines no longer stipulate combat service as required for a PTSD diagnosis. But even with that expanded guideline, a majority of military suicides have no corresponding diagnosis of PTSD or TBI to point to as a factor.

And while suicide rates have risen among service members who have deployed, they have also risen among those who have not.

Those who work in suicide prevention or behavioral health say they would love to find a common thread, leading to a “Eureka!” solution. With no common thread, that may not be possible.

By the numbers
One thing that is sure regarding military suicide is that it’s worse today than it was a decade ago, when the military could boast of a low rate compared to the civilian world.

In 2002, the military suicide rate was 10.3 in 100,000. Today, it is nearly equal to the civilian rate, adjusted for comparison to the military’s higher percentage of young white males, at 18 in 100,000. The overall unadjusted numbers nationally are 12 in 100,000.

The spike in military suicides hit a peak in 2012 with 350 – or nearly one a day – combining active-duty, reserve and National Guard figures. The figure exceeded the 295 combat deaths for 2012, causing a public outcry.

In conjunction with a similar trend in suicides of veterans – 22 a day according to the VA’s most recent report –national attention on the issue of suicide has tilted firmly in the direction of the military, almost exclusively.

A statistic that shouldn’t get lost in the focus on military suicides: Civilian suicides nationally are on the rise, especially among Baby Boomer males.

Read the rest of this story:


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