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The Incoming Tide of Veteran Suicides

By Ken Jones, PhD

Recent reports by the Baltimore Sun and CBS are bringing to light the numbers of suicides among our troops and veterans.

This seems a startling revelation to the current generation. For those of us who have lived through this aspect of combat induced traumatic stress, these suicides are fully expected.

In 1982 Walter Capps, in his book The Unfinished War, observed:

“Less known, and more immediately arresting, is the fact that since 1975 there have been as many suicides among Vietnam veterans as there were combat fatalities during the war itself.”

Translated into numbers this would be something approaching 60,000 Vietnam veteran suicides.

The military has learned to train, fight and return as a unit. This has a stabilizing effect on the troops who remain in the military. The mutual support available among unit members is very important.

According to a VA study, 53% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who committed suicide were Guard and Reserve members. It is the Guard and Reserve members who lose the support and the stability of their unit when they return from combat and go back to civilian life.  They are the prelude to what we can anticipate over the next several years.

Approximately 70% of first term enlistments in the Army and Marine Corp do not re-enlist. The reason that we have not yet seen more suicides among veterans is, in my view, partly the result of the “stop loss” provisions that keep troops from leaving the military.

When the stop loss provisions are lifted the tide of soldiers will come back into our communities and experience what the Guard and Reserve members are dealing with now.

What we are seeing today are only the first of the casualties. Communities need to be coordinating services now if they are to have any hope of avoiding the tide of suicides and suffering that is on its way.

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