‘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.
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